And now we come to one of the absolute toughest parts of any story -- the end.
At the break into Act Three the main character(s) has made a proactive decision to go forward with a plan to fix everything that had been ruined up to this point. Looking at Blake Snyder's beat sheet, there's only two more beats after that -- The Finale and The Final Image (aka the denouement).
The Finale is almost the entire third act, in ONE beat. So... um... what exactly do you do there?
Pretty much whatever you want. This is the part of the story where you take everything you've presented in the previous 3/4 (acts one and two) and use it to maximize everything you feel is important about this story.
Which is why I suggested going back and reading through the story before writing Act Three.
By this point, you have a better idea of your theme. You know your MC's strengths and weaknesses. You know precisely why you felt the need to write this story, and you've gotten this far, so now you want to finish it.
This is where all your previous clues become blatantly clear to the reader. You revisit actions, dialogue, thoughts, etc. to drive home the pivotal moment of the climax where everything is set right again.
A superb example of this is in Lauren Oliver's BEFORE I FALL. The book is only seven chapters long, but each chapter covers a full day in Sam's life, the same day she keeps re-living. Every day she sees the same things and different things. All of these are clues to the reader, some more obvious than others, that give the ending MAJOR IMPACT. The reader is able to somewhat guess what's coming, while still being knocked out of their seat when they get to that point. Seriously. I'm personally not super-keen on how that book ended, but I can't deny how perfectly executed it was... and when I really think about it, it couldn't have ended any other way and had the same effect. I just don't like death. (and saying that someone dies at the end doesn't give anything away, trust me)
And this is where I take a moment to say OMG IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THAT BOOK YET DROP EVERYTHING AND DO IT NOW YOU WON'T REGRET IT.
*ahem* Moving on...
In the movie HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON the third act brings together all the elements we've seen up to that point. Everything we learned about dragons, the Vikings, Hiccup, his father, his peers, and the dragon nest, all converge into a final showdown. And the climax is the point where we know it has all been set right again. No more threat from the dragon nest. No more belittling Hiccup. No more denying that dragons can be helpful.
Looking at it this way, you'd think the ending would be easy. Sorry. It isn't. You can't use everything. You have to select the elements that would best serve the pivotal moment. Once you've done that, you have to find a way to give it both physical and emotional intensity without dragging it out too much or restating the obvious.
If you're having trouble figuring out what should happen in your final act, refer back to your logline and your inciting incident in chapter one.
Please don't tell me you've gotten this far and still don't have a logline. Please.
For those of you who have been listening to me, take your logline and your first chapter and remind yourself of the specific story question you posed to your readers at the outset. It's in there, even if you didn't conscientiously put it there. In fact, the best story questions are not obvious until the end... when they are answered.
The ending answers the story question. Period. If you don't know what your story question is, your ending will fall flat, guaranteed. And perhaps you'll also realize that your first chapter isn't quite up to par either. No surprise, really, that chapter one often undergoes the most rewrites on a second draft. But don't worry about that yet. First you need to write an ending.
If there is only one point in any given story where character motive and scene goals are abundantly clear, it's in Act Three. Everything in this section must PUSH FORWARD, no matter what hurdles appear. There will be setbacks, yes. That creates conflict and amps up the tension. But the time for sequel is over at this point. Anything that seemingly prevents the protagonist from achieving his/her goal is quickly overcome so the push can continue, all the way until the resolution at the climax.
Decisions are made spur-of-the-moment, which often creates even more conflict because the decisions are not very well thought-out. But this occurs out of necessity. There is an urgency in the Grand Finale that has not yet been seen at any other point in the story.
Every word must count. Every page must have a clear purpose. Personally, endings are the slowest writes for me during a first draft. Not only are you exhausted by everything you've written up to this point, but the pressure to fit all the pieces together perfectly is overwhelming. Sometimes I write, maybe, a couple pages in one sitting, then take a break. Whereas earlier parts might have come out a couple chapters at a time. Big difference.
So there it is. Your story question has been answered in the best way possible, but it's not quite over yet. There is one more thing, albeit small, that you must give your reader to seal in that feeling of satisfaction at the end -- the denouement.
Denouements get screwed up all the time, even from professionals, which is why I'm dedicating an entire post to it on Monday.
Joe and I have not yet decided if we're going to put up a post on Friday (I have to work -- yay for retail! NOT -- and Joe will be one of the crazies standing outside the stores at 2am), so this may be the final post of the week. Hope you all have a wonderful, relaxing, and fun next few days!