How do you know when you’ve reached the end? When the main story goal or quest has been completed. What if you don’t have one of those?
You may have lots of interesting “vignettes” or episodes or scenes. Some of them may not even include your main character – the one who grows and changes the most.
Side stories or scenes are OK as long as they deepen the characters, provide contextual information to help see the forces of conflict, help show the stakes and risks (what’s happening, why it matters) or create forward momentum (introduce the next necessary detour in the story) but their should always be a main drive or goal – even if it’s just survival – that will be achieved once the main threats are eliminated or successfully avoided.
It’s also possible if the whole story has been avoidance, the final conclusion will allow the character to suffer what they’ve been avoiding, gain inner strength from the experience, and rise to triumph.
I often see final battle scenes that are unemotional – it’s just punch jab slash; or it’s over too quickly with a simple fight. This is why I recommend having a hero who loses the final battle at first, needs to regroup, and come back stronger.
You can stall out fight scenes by breaking them up, making them harder, giving the main villain a super power or defense (like Superman’s kryptonite). If Superman was just always super powerful, all the fight scenes would be lame, because they would be easy. There needs to be real personal risk, or there’s nothing noble or heroic about the protagonist rising to fight even when the battle is lost.
If this is a first book, you don’t need to worry about wrapping everything up, but you do want to address or confront the main story quest or goals that have been the main motivation for action throughout the book – if you get to the end and you’ve introduced a whole bunch of cool stuff but never got back to the main conflict you introduced (the main story is always the BIGGEST conflict or sense of urgent need, with the biggest footprint or effect on your world at large) then readers may feel disappointed or even cheated.
Usually the MC needs a pep talk from a close friend, to “gird the loins.” They need a reason to fight, even if it’s hopeless. Even if they don’t see how to defeat the enemy. There’s no choice but to confront them. But now they are prepared—they might have gained a valuable piece of knowledge or information. They might have been given a new weapon or power, or learned the villain’s weakness (or maybe not… they might find that just by going into battle on faith, whatever they need materializes in the critical moment). The final battle scene often includes a “hero at the mercy of the villain” scene, where the hero is caught, so the villain can gloat (or this can come earlier, just before the 2nd Plot Point).
Anyway it’s not a clear, easy victory. They fail at first, all is lost, the hero is captured, the enemy gloats, then the hero perseveres… usually simply by not giving up. With resolve and tenacity, the hero escapes and overpowers the villain. Often the final battle scene also includes a “death of the hero” scene, where the hero, or an ally/romantic interest, sacrifices themselves, and appears to die… but then is brought back to life in joy and celebration. (Or if you want to keep it dark, just have them die, so the victory will be bittersweet). This doesn’t have to be a literal “battle.” It’s just the last, final straw, the most dramatic part of your story. It’s what forces the MC to make a realization, change or grow. And it’s the place where the MC has a victory.
The antagonist is fully revealed. The protagonist rides off to meet their fate. At first they fail, and are captured—all seems lost, but in a sudden twist, the protagonist reaches into themselves and finds the motivation and tenacity to persevere, unlocking access to their secret weapon, and defeating the antagonist.
How to write action scenes: slow it down with detail. Show the movements, the detail in the scene, the beads of sweat and blood. Throw in some banter or dialogue to break things up, doubts or fears, threats or goading. Often the villain will criticize the hero’s weakness or futility… and they’ll respond by standing up for themselves – probably realizing that they have grown and won’t be pushed around anymore; or that the fight is worth giving everything – even their own lives. There’s probably a point where they realize they may not survive this encounter.
Return to Ordinary (completion of journey) The hero returns, changed. They’ve won, though it’s probably temporary (this villain was defeated, but he or someone new will return). The safety is short- lived and bittersweet. The hero once again faces the small challenges or bullies at the beginning of the story, but they seem so trivial now. The hero is no longer lacking; they’ve grown in confidence, and now have a group of new friends, and a new hope for the future.
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