Real life doesn't come with neat, tidy endings. Our lives are full of dropped threads and open-ended questions.
Maybe that's why a story well told is such a pleasure. A good book fulfills our need to see situations wrapped up in a satisfying way. And if that wrap-up manages to worm some essential truth into our subconscious, we like it even better.
When I first started writing, endings were always the hardest part. No matter how carefuly I plotted and planned, I'd reach the last chapter of my story and realize that despite the fact that I'd followed all the rules, the ending rang false, like a discord at the end of a lovely piece of music. The hero and heroine were together, the plot threads were tied in a neat bow, but there was something lacking.
While I was fussing over this issue, my husband asked me what was wrong. I told him I couldn't find the ending for my book.
"Well, what's the epiphany?" he asked. "And what triggers it?"
That was it: I needed an epiphany. The love realization in a romance is great. The black moment and its subsequent solution is even better. But what really makes a novel work is the epiphany - the sudden bright instant of understanding when the hero or heroine "gets it" and so does the reader.
While we all love a happily-ever-after ending, the happiness needs to come from something more than love and marriage. Romance readers these days are sophisticated enough to want real character growth along with the everalsting love and hot, hot sex. It's great that Cinderella got her prince, but did she also learn to assert herself so she won't end up sweeping ashes off the palace hearth? And now that Rapunzel's let her hair down, is she going to remain a free spirit?
The whole point of fiction is to reorganize life events to reveal an emotional truth. That truth doesn't have to be groundbreaking or profound; it just has to relate somehow to the real world, so the moment of epiphany is as much of an "aha" moment for your reader as it is for your character. It's that relationship to the reader's life that gives your ending resonance and makes your story linger with the reader like the last chord of a favorite symphony.
So my husband was right about the epiphany and the trigger. He's right about a lot of things - I admitted years ago that he knows how the universe works (merry Christmas, honey, I put it in print!). But he's not a writer and doesn't read a lot of fiction, so I'm convinced his answer to my writing dilemma came from some divine presence beyond his experience.
This was confirmed when I asked him a while back how he came up with that bit of wisdom.
"That thing about the epiphany really helped," I said. "Did you read that somewhere, or did you make it up?"
"I don't know." He gave me a puzzled look. "What's an epiphany?"
Yep. Definitely devine intervention at work.
So what's your epiphany?
The ending of one year and the beginning of another always seems like a fairly arbitrary distinction to me. Here in Wyoming, it's winter on December 31st and it will still be winter on New Year's Day. But somehow, the holidays punctuate what's past and make January feel like a new beginning. You can't help looking back at the year as a unit, thinking about how it differed from the one before and wondering what the next one will bring.
So what was your epiphany this year, and what was the trigger?