Okay, finally! We have these fabulous characters who have traversed the long, winding roads, the rickety bridges, faced the monsters, learned enormous things about themselves and their worlds, and found their Holy Grail.
Whew! Has this been a journey or what 🙂
So now, climax over, the dust is settling and the air is growing ever-more clear as we wind down to The End.
These short remaining passages of denouement and resolution still contains vital points to your story, however, and more pertinent to our discussion, your Hero.
Because although the main action has occurred, we still have a few threads to tie up. And we have precious few words to do it in.
It’s funny how often I see manuscript where the climax occurs, and then the stories go on for pages and pages and pages. Just rambling. Tying up every loose end and even going off in other directions before just finally stopping!
This happens much more than you’d think.
But again, you have only a very brief amount of time and space in order to finish the book once the climax has occurred.
A chapter. Somewhere around 10-15 pages at most.
It helps to keep this in mind while writing the final chapter, as it forces you to focus on exactly and only the things that truly matter here.
And sharp focus is needed, indeed.
The central issue here, and the one to keep at the forefront of your mind, is:
How did my hero change and grow?
This circles back to the very beginning of your book, to the central Story Question with which you opened. You know the one—which gave us a sense of our protagonist, her real world, the Call to Adventure, and why she couldn’t accept it (her own failings and shortcomings).
That last bit is the internal conflict, which mirrored the external one, and which ultimately had to be answered throughout her journey through the plot points and storyline and climax of the book.
Because great characters always change and grow. That’s the point of them going through all of this in the first place.
But! You say, the point is the plot!
Yep, it is. The plot and characters, however, are tied more tightly together than a balloon to its string. Without them together, where your reader can hold onto the end, the entire contraption flies off into space.
So, as your plot winds down, so do the internal demons of the hero.
She’s faced her nemesis—whatever you’ve constructed that to be—both inside and outside. She’s succeeded in her quest—at least in part.
And now, she’s ready to bring back the boon (again, whatever that is—from saving the planet from pesky aliens to ceasing her addiction) to the community at large.
That boon is precisely what she’s learned through this process. You cannot change the world, at least for the better, without changing yourself. And once you do, then the entire community benefits.
You literally bring back a piece of the Grail for everyone to share.
We saw the protagonist changing throughout the story, no? As he mastered the tasks before him, learned from mentors, found allies and villains, through it all, he grew as a human being.
And, that changed him.
Now, tread carefully here. Leopards really don’t change their spots. You’re not looking for whole-scale transformation, but for believable change. We needed to see bits and pieces of it as we went along, and when everything comes together in the end, the growth and change of the hero should all fit together.
In the example of Lonesome Dove from last time, our hero Gus doesn’t change. And that’s what kills him. Although he affected great change in the outer, he refused to alter his sense of manhood in order to not lose his leg. So, he died from the complications.
Cap’n Call, on the other hand, reinforces his own code of honor, and spends the rest of the novel honoring his friend’s wishes.
And Call does change—but in a negative way. The friendship between the two was the central love story of the book. Not in a Brokeback Mountain sort of way! But in the deep and abiding trust and friendship the two had.
The loss of Gus took Call to his knees. And we find from subsequent books that he never recovered.
This is the tragic way of a character growing and changing, and McMurtry, genius that he is, pulled it off. But that’s a truly difficult balance to achieve.
What most of us want to effect is to see our heroes as they become stronger, more adept, having learned enormous amounts, and now they can share that with their worlds.
Again, that doesn’t mean you tie up each and every issue. Loose threads remain. Foibles to address on another day.
Whether you’re writing a series or not doesn’t matter much about this point. We want to see the central issue, the main story question, come to a satisfying conclusion in the end.
And that’s what will make your hero memorable. Which makes your book satisfying as well.