Posts Tagged ‘James Scott Bell’

The End

Satisfaction Guaranteed!

That’s our motto. We want to make sure that once we’ve shared with our readers the journey our characters have taken, we also grant them a satisfying ending. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, it must leave us content on some level by the time we turn the final page.

I’m not saying our stories must have happy endings or that our protagonist’s hopes and dreams must all come true. Far from it. But, whatever questions we have thrown out there must be addressed, and all the loose ends tied up.

question mark



Story Questions

The question we need to keep uppermost in our minds, the one that drives the story, is: what does the protagonist want and does he/she get it?

There are several optional endings for a story, which we will discuss in a few paragraphs.

Whatever happens in terms of the protagonist’s goal and story question, the reader must be left with the feeling that it was addressed and dealt with, no matter what the outcome.

It’s a good idea to keep notes of all the questions / scenarios we’ve have raised and make sure we speak to each one.

We should attempt to tie the end back to the beginning in some way. If we can bring our opening scenario back to the reader’s mind at the end, it makes our story more connected, more holistic.

Character Arcs

One of our top responsibilities as authors is to create character arcs for the individuals who inhabit our stories. These characters must change over the course of the tale, whether positively or negatively, vastly or slightly. Again, it’s best to keep careful track of the character arcs, at least those of the main characters. This will help direct us to a satisfying ending.

If we are writing a stand-alone novel, all the questions need to be answered in some manner. If this particular story is part of a series, the same is true, although we will be creating some scenarios that will lead to the next book. But even here, we need to satisfy our readers if we want them to read our next book.

Types of Endings

For interest sake, I googled suggested types of endings by noteworthy authors, and have included several lists. The first is condensed from an article titled Types of Endings in Novels by Cynthia Tucker. Read more HERE

1.  Happy endings – the protagonist achieves his/her goal, the antagonist is served justice, and everything turns out well. My example is Emma by Jane Austen. The heroine learns her lesson and becomes a better person.









2.  Tragic endings – the main character may be successful in achieving his/her goal, but sacrificeshis/her life to accomplish it. My example is Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

Romeo & Juliet







    3.  Twist endings – surprise the reader (mystery stories). My example is The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. It’s not a mystery or a novel, but a short story which, in my opinion, uses plot twists to create an unforeseen and memorable ending.

    Gift of the Magi








    4.  Ambiguous endings – leave the reader to decide what happens. My example is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. That ending is one I still noodle over.

    Life of Pi








    A second source for typical book endings is James Scott Bell’s amazing how-to book, Revision & Self-Editing (Writer’s Digest Books). I have condensed his five points below.

    The Five Types of Novel Endings

    Beginnings are easy. Endings are hard. But it will help if you know the five types of endings:

    1. The Lead gains his objective (happy ending)
    2. The Lead loses his objective (unhappy ending)
    3. The Lead gains his objective but loses something more valuable (classic tragedy)
    4. The Lead sacrifices his objective for a greater good
    5. The ending is ambiguous or bittersweet (mostly for literary fiction)

    I discovered another list (I love lists) at Creative Writing Now that suggests several checks to insure satisfying endings.

    A satisfying ending:

    — will show or suggest the result of the story conflict [the story question we talked of earlier]

    — will come from the main character’s actions [remember the character arcs?]

    — will use elements from the beginning and middle of the story [tying end to beginning]

    — will make the reader feel something

    More Examples of Great Endings

    Here are a few of my favorite novels. Consider what types of endings they exhibit.


    Lord of the Rings – I was haunted by the ending of this masterpiece, but it ended as it must. Frodo has courageously completed the task he was given, not one he chose or wanted, and we are proud of his courage and perseverance. However, it has cost him. He goes to his reward, yet this means separation from his friends.



    GonGone with the Winde with the Wind – Another difficult ending. We want to take Scarlett O’Hara and shake some sense into her. Yet even in view of her bad choices, we are not left without hope. She’s made it before and we hope she will do so again.




    Count of Monte Cristo


    The Count of Monte Cristo – The Count is bent on revenge and justice. He spends his life seeking it and is successful in that. There have been costs and the reader must judge whether or not the his success was worth the cost.



    I hope these suggestions an examples will encourage each of us to study what’s out there and translate this into our craft.

    Happy writing!






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    In my Fiction Writing 101 series, I often refer to James Scott Bell and his writing books and tools, especially Plot & Structure. My copy is well-marked and highlighted. That’s where I first heard the differentiation between an OP and a NOP.Plot & Structure

    OPs are Outline People, NOPs are Non-Outline People. The abbreviations are easy to remember but the meanings tend to merge into one another.

    Are you an OP or a NOP? Or is this purely a matter of semantics? Do the NOPs just have an uncanny ability to keep their outlines in their heads while the rest of us have to record ours in black and white? I heard a fellow author on a radio interview recently say she writes the entire book in her head, then does a complete draft before committing it to paper. Whether we do so in our heads or on paper, outlining is essential to continuity, consistency, and the evolution of characters and action.

    There are many helpful outlining methods available for use, or we can adapt them and create our own. Bell’s basic formula involves a step-by-step analysis of what you want in your story:

    — main character

    — what he or she wants

    — main story conflict

    — strong ending

    Bell calls this his LOCK system, and I’ll let you follow up with his book.

    I have also used a story analysis system called How to Find Your Story by Jeff Gerke, which has subsequently been revised into a book titled Plot versus Character. If the new volume is anything like the download I picked up some years ago, it will be full of charts and questions to help the writer establish the basic elements of the story and how they fit together.

    file000474391001Another approach is the Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson. This is also available online (free) and is a valuable tool for plot creation and development. It involves recording the basic elements, then gradually filling them out.

    di7eGA5i9A plot method I particularly like is The Plot Skeleton by Angela Hunt. My favorite part of this plan is how the “good” and “bad” plot incidents balance each other like the ribs of the skeleton. In a workshop with Angela, we used The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz as templates for the plot skeleton of a story. Both work very well.

    I recently asked Marsha Hubler, author of tween horse books and Amish stories (as well as writing in other genres), how she goes about writing her series. She said, “Detailed planning of character development, plot structures, and story arcs for each book in the series is a must.”

    So however you choose to create your stories, whether as an OP or a NOP, find a method that works and follow it to make this the best story ever.



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    What is plot—besides a piece of ground used to bury dead people (that’s from James Scott Bell in Plot & Structure)? In my mind, plot is the story itself, with a beginning, middle and end. Of course there are literary works that don’t follow any of the rules, not even as guidelines, but I’m thinking of genre writing. Plot is the skeleton of the story, the bones on which the rest is built and fleshed out.

                THE HOOK

    fish & hook

    Stories must begin with an appealing element of some kind, an aspect of the piece that draws us in and makes us want more. In fiction writing, this is called the hook. Switch over to a fishing analogy: the fish sees the worm or lure and can’t resist a taste, but alas, once he grabs it, he’s hooked and committed. That’s the kind of draw we need in our stories, one that grabs the readers by the senses and holds them while we reel them in through the depths of the rest of the story. And the read should be worthwhile.

    Here is an example of a hook that drew me in:

    – P.D. James’ The Private Patient: “On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went…” Well, that immediately raises a plethora of questions for which I want answers.

    * A tip: you don’t have to have your hook intact right away, just have an idea of it. You can tweak it many times in the process of writing and editing.


    hands in conflict

    Another element of plot is conflict. All the examples given above hint at clashes and tension, and that’s what makes a story. Each scene, each section of dialogue, must involve tension and lead us deeper into the tale.


    WORKING TITLE                                                             

    I          Prologue

    II        Part One

                A. Opening Disaster

                            1.  Introduce main character


    If you are an outline person, you will work through your main plot elements in point form first, filling them out as you develop the storyline. If you are not an outline person, you will organize in your head as you write. It’s a matter of what works best for you. There are many formulas and templates to help us create a workable plot, and we’ll discuss those next time.

    SCENES & SEQUELSScene & Structure

    plotWhen plotting a story, it helps to write in scenes instead of chapters, in my opinion. The book Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham is a great way to learn about the differences between action scenes and internal episodes and how they compliment each other. Another excellent resource for plotting is Plot by Ansen Dibell. These are both Writer’s Digest Books and are available online in print and digital formats.

    In Plot, Dibell writes: “Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward” p. 6. So it follows that as we plot our novels, we need to consider who the characters are, what they do, how they live and think and feel, how they communicate, and how this all works together to lead us to the desired ending.

    * Note: sometimes the story takes a direction the author did not foresee, and the resulting ending differs from the original thought. Plotting must be a flexible endeavor.

    You can follow your instincts in plotting a novel—it’s best to study up on it first, though—or you can use some of the resources and ideas suggested above, but get plotting. We’re waiting for your novel.

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