3 Keys to a Happy Ending

Do you see that rainbow and pot of gold 10 days away?  That is the end of NaNoWriMo, the grand finale of the project that might right now make you feel a little like this.


And standing in the way of you and your finale is a giant turkey.

(I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get in his way. Besides, the Minnesota Vikings are playing the Detroit Lions, so that is a mandatory time out/no writing day).

So, let’s optimize this weekend, take a couple days off to hang out with our people…and consider our Grand Finale.

You know those movies where you finish a book and you think…did I like this?  How do I feel?  Often it’s because the author hasn’t give you the  3 Keys of a Happy Ending.

A great happy ending has three parts:

  1. Your hero/heroine is freed from the lie they believe, allowing them to become a New Person (and do that think at the end they couldn’t at the beginning)
  2. Your hero/heroine’s WOUND is healed. The wound is the emotional heartache from the Dark Moment Story. That think that he/she had always wanted but never gotten.
  3. Your hero/heroine receive a piece of the Greatest Dream. Something sweet and unexpected that is also pulled from the Dark Moment story.


The LIE is defeated by TRUTH.

This is the capstone of your ending. It’s what ignites the epiphany and change in your charcter. It’s WHY your hero is on his journey.  If you do nothing else, give your character TRUTH.

Now, let’s add all the Feels:

Heal the Wound:

Remember when we were building characters and we asked our character what their darkest moment in their past was? We pulled out of that the lie and the greatest fear and used those to create the inner journey and the black moment event.

But from this moment, you can also find The Wound. 

From the dark places of our past, those things that have hurt us, we’ve learned a lie…but we’ve also received a deep wound.  Something that just…hurts.  It could be rejection, or betrayal, or even grief.  Often, it has to do with a broken relationship.  We carry these wounds around with us, keeping us away from people who might pour salt into the wound, or reopen it.  Hence why people self-sabotage relationships, or veer away from anything substantial – their wounds simply won’t allow them to draw close for the fear of reopening.

Hello, it’s thanksgiving. Time to spend time with FAMILY.  We love them…but oh, they can hurt us, right?  Imagine your hero going to hang out with his family over thanksgiving. What are the wounds that might inadvertently be opened?

When you give your hero his HEA…heal one of those wounds by giving him what he wants.

And then…delight us with a piece of the Greatest Dream:

The Greatest Dream isn’t just about healing the wound or winning the day, or conquering their fear. It’s something deeper, something sometimes your character won’t even know or understand.

Start by asking: What is your characters’ happiest moment in their past?

We want to dig around in their past to find that one moment when everything worked, everything was right.  And, we want to extrapolate from that some element that we can then use in the ending.

Don’t let them off the hook by saying, “when I graduated from college,” or “when I got married,” – make them be specific.  You want to pinpoint an exact event, with details. An exact event allows you to take a good look at it, and frankly, if you want, recreate it.  Most of all, it allows you to find the nuances that pull out exactly why this was the happiest moment


So…while you’re eating turkey, or watching the Vikings crush the Lions, think:  How can I give my hero truth, heal his wounds and give him a piece of his greatest dream?

Then…okay, you can have dessert.

Have a fabulous thanksgiving!


P.S.  Another reward you can give yourself for finishing that epic novel is to bring it to the annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat and let us help you hone it into publication!  We specialize in individual help, getting to the root and power and magic of YOUR story. In short…we help you find the happy ending for your brilliant book.  Join us in FLORIDA in February—check it out here!


Quick Skills: The Final Battle Breakdown and Flow Chart!

How do you create a triumphant ending?  We touched on the why yesterday in “conversations” but today I wanted to put tools to the theory.

Just as a reminder:  the point of the Final Battle is to convince the reader (and the character) that true character change has taken place by putting it to the test.  You are waging an “internal battle” using external elements.

I like to use the movie The Patriot because it is an actual battle, but it also clearly illustrates the internal/external final battle of a story.  The idea is: armed with the TRUTH, which has caused their epiphany, your character will face their last challenge, that thing they couldn’t do at the beginning of the story that they can no do (or are willing to face) at the end.  In this last challenge, they’ll come face to face with the lie (or their inner flaws that have kept them from change), falter, embrace the truth/epiphany and then forge ahead in victory.

If you’re familiar with The Patriot (and if not, I’d suggest watching it – or at least just this part. 😉 ) Benjamin Martin’s militia is asked to fight on the line, a.k.a. fight honorably. They rise to the challenge, but, as the battle ensues, they falter and begin to retreat.  Martin, meanwhile, has in his sights Tavington, the man who killed both his sons.  He is running forward to kill him when he realizes that his men are fleeing.  So, he has to make a choice – does he go after Tavington or help his men stay in the fight?

See, Martin has always believed that a man can’t fight honorably in war. His backstory/dark moment is that he committed a terrible crime as a youth fighting the French-Indian war, and he fears letting rage and revenge master him (something that happened early in the movie, and has taken the life of his two sons).  He’s had his epiphany – that he can fight for honor – but now…in this moment, he has a choice.

Can he stay the course, fight with honor, or will he give into revenge?

Martin sees his chance and nearly takes it…until he sees an American flag on the ground. In a very metaphorical moment, Martin throws down his weapon and grabs the flag.  Then he turns and calls his men back to action – choosing honor over revenge.

Of course, then, he is free to fight Tavington, having defeated the lie and realizing he can choose honor over the bloodthirsty man he’d been.  But let’s break that sequence down:

Step One:  Storm the Castle. What is that final thing your character needs to do to prove that he/she has changed?

Step Two:  Falter, or be attacked by the Lie.  How can their fears or flaws, their dark moment from their backstory rise up to make them falter?

Step Three:  Hold onto the Truth! How can they be reminded of the truth or epiphany?

Step Four:  Seize the Day – Victory!  How do they complete their journey by showing they have  confronted the lie, and chosen truth? How can they win?

Here’s a Visual Chart of the Triumphant ending:




Mapping out the spiritual journey can be as extensive or as minimal as you want.  I like to define the Steps that I’ve just outlined and let the story and characterization take it from there.

One of the tricks that really helps me is to post the sequence of the Final Battle on my computer as I write so I know where I’m going.

It keeps me motivated that yes…there is a triumphant ending!

QUICK SKILLS:  Plot out your final battle early in your story so you know how you’ll build your triumphant ending!

Have a great writing week! Susie May

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