Closing the Deal (and the Book)

If a writer can sell a lead character to an audience for the entirety of a story, he’d better not give them what they expect at the close.

Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? What buyer wants to walk out of a store dissatisfied?

While this little series has previously explored the parallels between storytelling and business sales, here we come to a fork in the road: because the “close” of one ought to look vastly different from the other.

Which is why I ask you to consider this question, in reference to stories:

Since when are predictable endings satisfying?

You see, predictability is everything in business—except in business, we call it reliability.  

Without it, companies and products would have horrible reviews from disgruntled patrons who feel shortchanged. Because in business, you must always deliver exactly what you promise. Sure, you can exceed customer expectations by giving them what they ask for and more, but if what you give them is fundamentally different from what they expect, then you’ll be hearing about it later.

Change, on the other hand, is the key element in closing out a story.

Not that you should turn a rom com into a horror film at the last moment, or that the hero should turn out to be a villain (although both have been done). What I mean is that if your lead character is the exact same person by the end of the story as he was when your readers cracked open the book, then you’ve let them down. Unlike a Swiffer mop, he shouldn’t operate the same way after purchase as he did in the demo. And it’s not because readers and viewers simply crave change—it’s because real people don’t function the same way at the end of a wild ride as they did in the beginning.

The narrative term here is the character arc—something we’re all familiar with, but something we as writers often neglect to give our leads.

So what’s the point of all this? Why bother comparing sales to storytelling if they don’t line up at the end?

As a writer (and really, as anything), I think there is always something to be gained by considering a craft from a fresh angle. When we do something frequently enough, we can begin to think of it narrowly and to settle with what’s comfortable. By taking a new perspective, we open the door to discoveries that can help us improve and personalize our work. And while no one can give you an exact formula for creating a character arc, we would do well to think about it consciously as we write.

Because if we forget to let our character change, then our readers will inevitably forget our character.

What do you think goes into a successful character arc?

Have you had success at writing characters who change by the end of the story?

What are some books whose “close” left you unsatisfied with the lead character’s arc?

Which ones do you think pull it off well?

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