Six - ConclusionA Lesson by Alex
Will things ever be the same again? It's the final Lesson!
The time has come for our Protagonist to ride off into the sunset.
But to what point? Is he off on his next adventure? If so, will it be similar to the one we just saw, or entirely different? Is he off to repent for the sins he committed in the Climax? Is it to finally, and at long last, rest his tired body and/or mind? Does he have unfinished business, brought up in the Climax/Falling Action, but ultimately unrelated to this plot? Will he simply live happily ever after? Or are we merely watching his spirit, as he passes on to the next world? If so, will he be rewarded for his deeds, or punished? And most importantly: how does he feel about his fate? If his fate is something negative, does he feel he deserves it?
There’s usually not a whole lot to cover in the conclusion. One of the only rules is that no new information is supposed to be introduced. This is usually a simple matter, where the reader learns what the protagonist will do with the plot behind him. This doesn’t need to have anything to do with the plot, though it should be because of the plot. For example: in a drama plot, The Protagonist might have ended an abusive relationship in the Climax. The Conclusion could show him getting on a plane on a one-way trip to Who-Knows-Where. Who-Knows-Where has nothing to do with the plot (though maybe should have been mentioned once or twice as a place the Protagonist has always wanted to live for continuity’s sake), but this particular ending is all about starting over fresh, and what better way than to move to somewhere new? The Protagonist is moving because of the Plot.
As far as structure goes, that’s about all I can say about the Conclusion. So now I’d like to talk about a different element of the Conclusion: the sequel promise. This has become a pretty common theme in books and movies lately, where the reader/viewer gets to the end, and the story finishes on a note that might as well fade to black and say “To be continued…”
I’m not a fan of these endings at all, especially as the first installment in a series. For one, it leaves an impression about the writer that’s almost smug, like “I knew you’d all love this soooo much, that I’m already working on the sequel. You’re welcome.” And maybe the story really was excellent, and I can’t wait for the next installment. But don’t pretend you know everyone will love it before it’s even published, it’s rude.
On a less opinionated note: this is counter-intuitive to our plot structure. Namely, no new information is supposed to be introduced at this part of the Plot, and it’s kind of hard to do a sequel promise without doing so, and even if you did, you’re now adding new conflict in the wrong part of the Plot.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first book in the Harry Potter series, and I think it’s handled very well as such. The conclusion to this book has Harry leaving Hogwarts on the train, and going back to live with his aunt and uncle. Voldemort is still out there, and Harry will have to be ready when next he appears. The End. There’s obviously more to Harry’s story, even before The Chamber of Secrets was released, it was clear that Harry’s story wasn’t over. But the book didn’t end with a promise that you’ll have to tune in next time to witness them, just on the notion of “Harry has enemies, and more school. These things will come, and Harry will deal with them.” That could have been the last Harry Potter story ever printed, and we wouldn’t have felt like the story fell off a cliff, like the end of the first Golden Compass movie, which is probably the strongest example of how to prevent your story from being its own entity.
Granted, the Golden Compass book series was completed, so it doesn’t fall off a cliff like the movie, and it’s MUCH more common for this to happen with movies than books, but it’s still a good practice to use with writing. Respect your story, and give it the confidence it deserves to let it stand on its own.
Let me just clarify: there’s NOTHING wrong with an open ending to a story. Just don’t insist that there’s more, because there might not be. Even The Chamber of Secrets kept its ending very neutral in this aspect. Not until The Prisoner of Azkaban did the notion of more-books-to-come accompany the endings. By the time we get to The Goblet of Fire, it becomes obvious that more books will – must – come to complete the story, but the books themselves are always careful to end in a way that it’s still its own isolated story (barring continuity). The closest we ever get to a to be continued ending is The Half-Blood Prince, where, for the first time, a new character/element is introduced in the Conclusion: R.B. And since this is the last book before the final book in a 7 book series, I suppose the buildup required grants this instance a pass.
What I’m trying to say is if you promise your readers a sequel, you better deliver, or your original story will become immensely less appreciated because of it.
Wow…I’m finished. I finished the entire course! And so did you - great job! I hope you found some insight and/or inspiration from some of these lessons, and maybe even learned a thing or two about Plot Structure. I’d be very happy to get some feedback on how helpful these lessons have been.
Added on August 13, 2015
Last Updated on August 13, 2015
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