Last weekend, El Husbando and I attended a sci-fi convention in Toronto. We’re not huge fans of the convention itself, but one of the guests of honor was author Brandon Sanderson—no way we were going to miss that! Sanderson is best known for finishing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, but we’ve been huge fans since Elantris, so… uh, yeah. A little fangirl/fanboy *squeeing* from both of us.
The convention offered a number of panels on writing speculative fiction, which Sanderson helped to lead. One of the things he said on a panel about writing endings is that the end of your book should be “surprising, yet inevitable.”
I think this particular phrase can also be found on his Writing Excuses podcast, so I don’t know if he necessarily coined the phrase, but it stuck with me… it really, really makes sense!
When you’re writing the ending of your story, the last thing you want is a predictable ending. You don’t want your reader to come to the CLIMAX OF EVERYTHING and then say “oh, I saw that coming a hundred pages ago.”
Instead, you want the reader to realize what’s happening just as the characters realize what’s happening, turn that last page and then think: “Wow, I didn’t expect that… but of COURSE it had to happen that way!”
The ending then informs the rest of what came before it, and the reader realizes that it really couldn’t have happened any other way.
The best example I can think of for this is from one of Sanderson’s own works, the Mistborn series. The end of that trilogy is shocking, unexpected, and yet… all things considered… absolutely, 100% the ONLY way it could have ended.
Now, how you craft those endings is another matter entirely… but the more you write, the more natural this kind of ending will be.
How about you… do you write endings that are “surprising, yet inevitable?”