I recently wrote a post about how to start scenes, but now I want to touch on how to end them. How do you know you’re done? Is there a strategy for how to end scenes?
The answer to these questions is yes. Scenes are like mini-stories within your larger story. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes scenes end when it’s time to jump ahead to another time or place, or you might want to zoom in on different characters. But in general, a scene is over when the event you’re describing or showing is over.
Although that’s straightforward enough, you are writing a book that you want to sell. This means you have to write a book people want to read, and people want to read stories that are “page turners.” Readers turn pages quickly when they can’t wait to find out what happens next. This means you, the writer, must leave dangling questions or mysteries that the readers want to solve.
This applies to any novel: from an actual mystery to a romance to literary fiction. The stakes might not be literal life and death in some books, but the reader has to be invested in the characters and how they’re going to resolve their conflict. To do this, you must end your scenes strategically.
I’ll illustrate how this is done by using the novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han as an example (it’s also a Netflix movie). The basic plot is that teenager Lara Jean writes love letters to the boys she has crushes on and then stashes them in a hat box, sort of as closure. She never intends to tell these guys how she feels. But then, through a series of events, the letters get mailed out, and Lara Jean must deal with the consequences. The worst part of all? Her older sister’s boyfriend, Josh, gets a letter. In order to cover her real feelings for Josh, she contrives a scheme with a fellow classmate, Peter, to pretend to be Peter’s girlfriend.
Leave ‘em Wanting More
All scenes have a setup, a complication, a crisis, and a resolution. However, that resolution doesn’t have to be a hard stop. The resolution can and should lead to another question.
Here’s the way Chapter 26 ends:
I hug the book to my chest. Now that Josh knows I’m not in love with him anymore and I’m with Peter, I guess everything will slide right back into place and be normal again. Like my letter never happened.
Here the author is playing her readers like a fiddle. We all know that this plan is never going to work and that Lara Jean is clinging to false hope. But we also can’t wait to see how it’s going to play out.
End on a Mystery
With this type of scene ending, you are closing out the scene with an explicit question that is left dangling. This works well with mystery novels or thrillers, but it works just as well with romances.
Let’s take Chapter 24 of the book as an example. In this scene, Peter realizes that he can make his ex jealous if he agrees to pretend to be dating Lara Jean. Here is how it ends:
Hours later, I’m lying in bed that night still marveling about it all. What people will say when they see me walking down the hall with Peter Kavinsky.
The mystery is: what will people say? I know what I’m going to do: read on to find out!
End on a High Note
“They” say variety is the spice of life for a reason: because it is. The same concept applies to books. You don’t want to be a one-trick pony when it comes to ending scenes. Sometimes you want to end on a high note for your character. They’ve got to win a few, in addition to being left in crises or mysteries.
One of Lara Jean’s love letters get sent back to her, return to sender. Here’s how the author closes out Chapter 22:
I clutch the letter to my chest.
This is the first love letter I ever wrote. I’m glad it came back to me. Though, I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad if Kenny Donati got to know that he helped two people at camp that summer—the kid who almost drowned in the lake and twelve-year-old Lara Jean Song Covey.
This ending gives us insight into our sweet protagonist. Even in the midst of a true high school crisis—her most personal thoughts have been revealed—she still makes time to honor her feelings and think about Kenny. If we didn’t already love Lara Jean, you’d better believe we’re rooting for her now.