December has arrived and Fiona Harper is finishing up her blog series on Structure and Character Arc by talking about Happy Endings – and we all love those at Christmas, don’t we?
Okay, let’s think about what we discussed over the year so far:
Part One: first, we talked about seeing our main characters in their ordinary world...
Part Two: ...before something happened that turned out to be a catalyst for change in our characters’ lives.
Part Three: This thrust our characters into a period of denial and debate, when they (or others around them) were unsure about or unprepared for the challenge ahead.
Part Four: They then reach a turning point in their lives where they must commit to a course of action to attain a specific goal.
Part Five: now the fun and games begin, as our characters struggle to achieve that goal, even though they are not yet fully equipped to achieve it.
Part Six: brings us to the mid-point of the story, a point of no return, where our characters are now fully committed to the adventure they're on.
Part Seven: our characters often get a glimpse of truth that turns everything on its head.
Part Eight: brings complications and higher stakes as our characters fight with all they've got to achieve their goal.
Part Nine: The moment when our characters face a crushing setback
Part Ten: which leads them to believe that all hope is lost before they arrive at a solution to the their problem.
Part Eleven: which caused them to fight harder then ever before for what they want until the story reaches a climax.
Which bring us to this month's post - the part of the story after the climax, the new world your character is living in now they have lived through the adventure presented to them..
This is the flipside of the Ordinary World portion of the story, a chance for us to show readers how much our characters have changed and how much their lives have changed. In a romance novel, readers want to believe that this couple have conquered enough of their own inner demons to build a happy future together.
How do we do this? We make sure our characters have learned the hard lessons we gave them right back at the beginning of the book and we show that they have gone a long way to conquering that fatal flaw of theirs. They may not have eradicated it completely - after all, you want your characters to keep their personality - but they have brought it into balance.
Readers will take what we give them, who our hero and heroine have become at the end of the story, and project them into the future, so we need to make sure we haven't left some unsorted problems to sabotage their relationship.
For example, what if in Pretty Woman Edward never fully learned to express his feelings and Vivian never quite believed she was worth more than selling her body on the street? Can you imagine what that future would look like? She might quit prostitution, but after a while the fairy tale would wear thin - Edward's always at work and he never connects with her. She gets lonely. Okay she might not go back to her old profession, but she might find some other new (and unhelpful) way to bolster up her self-esteem. Hardly the Happy Ever After they wanted, is it?
It will depend on your story how long this section of your book is. Some stories need a final scene, like a wedding or a romantic, happy moment to finish them off; others only need a few a couple of paragraphs to wind things up. Neither is wrong, but it all depends if there is any last thing that needs wrapping up before we see the words THE END. Some characters have had such a steep learning curve that it's nice to spend time with them and see they truly have changed and it wasn't just a fluke when it looked like they had at the climax. Others have so clearly already completed their transformation that an extra scene would just feel like dragging it out.
Two movie examples of the extreme ends of the spectrum would be The Karate Kid and The Return of the King, the last part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The Karate Kid ends almost instantly after Daniel wins the fight. The 'aftermath' section lasts only a few seconds. Why? All the other plot threads have already been wrapped up and it ends in this wonderful, triumphant, punch-the-sky moment. By comparison, the 'new world', section of The Return of the King lasts almost half an hour. There are so many plot threads to tie up and characters to say goodbye to that taking any less time would have left audiences asking, "But what about...?" and "Whatever happened to...?".
My advice would be to take as long as you need to give your readers the 'ah' factor in your romantic ending, but no longer! The last thing you want is for them to finish the book feeling slightly bored because you warbled on too long!
Fiona's first single-title length book Kiss Me Under The Mistletoe is out now!
This Christmas, ex-WAG Louise Thornton is starting her new life, away from the paparazzi - and her cheating husband. Un-manicured, back on carbs and holding herself together courtesy of some seriously good foundation, Louise will make things perfect for her son, right up until he leaves for his dad's on the big day. Then she'll be free to curl up and cancel Christmas.
But it turns out escaping the fame goldfish bowl comes with some perks: peace and quiet, no baying press, plus regular battles with her Mr Darcy-esque new neighbour to keep her edge. And the best thing about a real, country Christmas is that there's always lots of mistletoe to be found…"