Guidelines for a Compelling Ending
The one rule of Part 4—the resolution of your story—is that no new expositional information may enter the story once it has been triggered. If something appears in the final act, it must have been foreshadowed, referenced or already in play. This includes characters.
Aside from that one tenet, punishable by rejection slip if you dismiss it, you’re on your own to craft the ending of your story. And in so doing, the enlightened writer observes the following guidelines and professional preferences.
GUIDELINE 1: The Hero is a Catalyst.
The hero of the story should emerge and engage as the primary catalyst in Part 4. He needs to step up and take the lead. He can’t merely sit around and observe or just narrate, he can’t settle for a supporting role, and most of all, he can’t be rescued.
I’ve seen all these things, many times, in unpublished manuscripts. I’ve rarely seen one in a published book or produced movie. It happens, but never in a title anybody remembers.
GUIDELINE 2: The Hero Grows Internally.
The hero should demonstrate that he has conquered the inner demons that have stood in his way in the past. The emerging victory may have begun in Part 3, but it’s put into use by the hero in Part 4. Usually Part 3 shows the inner demon trying for one last moment of supremacy over the psyche of the hero, but this becomes the point at which the hero understands what must be done differently moving forward, and then demonstrates that this has been learned during the Part 4 dénouement.
The hero applies that inner learning curve, which the reader has witnessed over the course of the story, toward an attack on the exterior conflict that has heretofore blocked the path.
Guideline 3: A New and Better Hero Emerges.
The hero should demonstrate courage, creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, even brilliance in setting the cogs in motion that will resolve the story. This is where the protagonist earns the right to be called a hero.
The more the reader feels the ending through that heroism—which depends on the degree to which you’ve emotionally vested the reader prior to Part 4—the more effective the ending will be. This is the key to a successful story, the pot of gold at the end of your narrative rainbow. If you can make the reader cry, make her cheer and applaud, make her remember, make her feel, you’ve done your job as a storyteller.
If you can cause all of those emotions to surface, you just might have a book contract on your hands.