Writing Excuses 10.42: How In The World Do I Tie All This Together?

Nalo Hopkinson joins us again, at sea, for our second Master Class installment on endings. We cover some of the reasons why an ending might not be working, and then talk about the sorts of diagnoses that will help you solve the problem. You’ll likely need to dig deep in your toolbox. Our episodes covering the MICE quotient, promises made to the readers, and the Hollywood formula may be worth reviewing in this process.


Consider the last paragraph of your work in progress. Compare it to your first paragraph. Identify possible resonances that you can mirror between the two.

Shadows of Self, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

7 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.42: How In The World Do I Tie All This Together?”


    The things that were discussed about sad endings touched upon why the ending of Hero of Ages really worked for me. Both main characters die, and it was shocking, but it made sense. Elend had been built up so that we figured he’d go down with the ship if things went from bad to worse, even if we were hoping that it wouldn’t come to that. Regardless of the sadness of the outcome, it was satisfying (Brandon once said there’s a difference between happy and satisfying). Also, it was a moment of triumph, even though he died and the world was about to end. After he died, Vin’s death made all the more sense. It would’ve been even more tragic, in my opinion, if he’d survived and she had been left to live without him. All in all, yes it was very sad, very poignant, but still satisfying because we feel that this was where the characters were headed all along.

  2. I hate to say it, but Lord of the Rings IS nested properly:

    Hobbits leave Shire/Saruman is evil{Aragorn begins his journey{Hobbits reach Rivendell – Quest to Destroy The Ring begins (Lots of self contained shorter stuff happens in the middle as rising action for the next 4 “Book”s) Quest to Destroy the Ring succeeds – Sauron is Dead} Aragorn’s journey ends in triumphant coronation – Aragorn is King}Hobbits return home – Saruman is killed. }Gray Havens scene.

    Track the brackets in that – the only ending that doesn’t match up to an initial event from Fellowship of the Ring is Frodo and Gandalf heading off to the Gray Havens. That’s all of 1 (maybe 2) chapters that don’t fit in the closed loop, which mirrors the 1.5 or so chapters before things really start rolling. (Yeah, they don’t leave Bag End until Book 3, but a lot of plans are made at the end of chapter 2.)

    The real problem here isn’t a broken nesting sequence, it’s the nesting order. In order from highest to lowest emotional intensity, the 4 overarching quests are:

    Destroy the Dark Lord Sauron by throwing his favorite ring into the only volcano on the planet (which happens to be within a few dozen miles of his seat of power).
    Destroy or redeem Saruman, the corrupted Wizard with the potential to become Sauron’s equal
    Restore Gondor’s throne to its rightful ruler
    Get back home again.

    This suggests that, within reason, these events should happen in the reverse order. Obviously getting home at the end of the quest can’t happen before the 3 other quests end, so we’re left with Aragorn=King then Saruman=Gone, and finally Sauron’s Ring=Destroyed before an unremarkable trek home. Hence the problem.

    Then there’s the other big problem with the Lord of the Rings. Nomenclature. It’s a novel comprised of 6 books that are separated into 3 volumes. Given that a book is normally equated to a volume (and indeed, these particular volumes are usually equated to novels in a trilogy), talking about the structure of the story can be an exercise in pure confusion. But there’s no way to fix that without going back in time to tell Tolkein to use the word “Part” instead of “Book” to separate the 6 major segments of his novel. (The novel vs trilogy issue is harder to solve, since the split into 3 volumes was, at the time, entirely justifiable, as the market for 1000 page tomes of epic fantasy had not yet been developed, and since clearing up misconceptions appears to be literally impossible.)

  3. The nesting order for LOTR becomes correct if we understand that the highest emotional intensity is to resist the corrupting influence of evil, as objectified in the Ring. (The world’s fate is tied to the Ringbearer’s ability to do this as an individual.)

    Frodo fails that test at the Cracks of Doom but a fortuitous chance (Tolkien’s eucatastrophe) destroys the Ring anyway, leaving Frodo as a hero who appears to have succeeded, but inwardly knows he has failed. As a result the ‘Ring’ element of the story is not entirely resolved by the destruction of Sauron, and readers now need to be shown that Frodo will recover from his failure (or fall irredeemably into evil, but LOTR is a happy story, not a tragedy).

    The extended ending in which other plot elements (Aragorn’s Quest, Saruman’s ‘Redemption,’ and the Return to the Shire) are resolved allows Frodo time to heal — first by coming to understand that he did all that was possible against the Ring (being praised as the Ringbearer despite his failure) , then by showing he has recovered his capacity for mercy (a signifying aspect of not submitting to evil) in the final confrontation with Saruman.

    The Journey to the Grey Havens can then finish Frodo’s story by removing him from further exposure to evil (which will inevitably return to Middle earth) via the Voyage to the Grey Havens.

    Not saying this is the only way to ‘read’ the story, just a way that fits the ‘nesting order’ of the ending to emotional stakes of major plot elements Rashkavar pointed out.

  4. A thing that didn’t seem to be covered in a lot of detail here was also the possibility that more forward planning might be needed. Now, obviously, this won’t work for everyone. There’s that wonderful little analogy that some writers are gardeners and some are architects, but I think sometimes a person can be a secret architect and not fully realise it.

    My own experience is that I enjoy writing organically, but when I do, a story never really properly resolves. It either just ceases or it bloats out forever… I tend to need to both plan the story out ahead of time, so that I can see it as an overarching whole, and know exactly what the end of the story is going to be before I start writing, if I want the story to form itself into a satisfying story-shape.

    This isn’t true of everyone, though it’s probably common enough to be a thing.

    Anyway, interesting episode. I look forward to the Q&A, which is always fun.



  5. Really interesting episode, as I just about to finish my own story and try to close down all the strings. Will try out the approaches / tipps you discussed.

    Keep on with your splendid podcast-show!

    Greetings from Germany,


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