Posted On May 25, 2012 by Print This Post

Don’t Leave Me Hanging – Knockout Happy Endings with Traci Bell

It’s happened to all of us…you’ve invested time reading a book and the last chapter has you rolling your eyes. 

Today, we’re happy to welcome paranormal romance author Traci Bell to the RU campus! Traci’s going to talk about writing a final chapter that will leave the reader with a lasting impression…in a good way.  

I recently finished reading a contemporary romance novel by a bestselling author who makes millions each year. The beginning of the book rocked. I was intrigued, engaged, and happily putting off my to-do list to keep reading. The end of the book left me hanging. When I put the book down for the last time, I was distinctly unsatisfied.

I felt cheated. For me, there was no real closure between the heroine and the antagonist. The antagonist altered the heroine’s life forever when she was young. I wanted the heroine to have an opportunity to look the antagonist in the eye and say ‘Screw you’ or ‘I won’ or ‘You can’t hurt me anymore.’ Cheated of this scene, the ending was not emotionally satisfying for me.

I’m picky about endings. Maybe that’s why I find them so hard to write.

Last month I finished the first draft of my current WIP. I rocked through most of the book, but the ending gave me fits. I wanted to provide a twist for the reader. (Check). The theme of the book is redemption, and I wanted the three main characters to find redemption, each for different reasons, and all through different means. (Che…  Uh…  Crap.) 

It took me a month to write the end to my story. With as much hair as I pulled out while writing it, I’m surprised I have any left.

My WIP is about a ghost looking for redemption, and his efforts bring together and complicate the lives of the hero and heroine. I wanted the heroine to be redeemed through faith and purpose; the hero to be redeemed through love; and the ghost to be redeemed by his actions. Putting all three paths to redemption into one showdown scene with the antagonist was a challenge.

James Scott Bell said in his book Plot and Structure that “An ending can ruin an otherwise good book.  A strong ending can redeem an otherwise mediocre book.”

No pressure.

Since I write romances, you’d think the endings would be easy. The hero and heroine always end up living happily ever after.

William Goldman, an award winning novelist, playwright, and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, says that the key to all story endings is to give the audience what it wants, but not the way it expects.

For me, this is key to writing good romance. Readers want the happily ever after.  So give it to them in a surprising or emotionally satisfying way. 

Adding a twist at the end of a novel can be a great way to surprise the reader. If you think back to the books or movies you’ve read that had great endings, I’ll bet many of them had a great twist – think The Sixth Sense or when Darth Vader tells Luke that he is Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back. Now these movies definitely didn’t have happy endings – Willis’s character is dead and Han Solo is still frozen when the credits roll. But these endings worked because a crucial piece of information was kept from the audience until the end. How can you do that and still end your story with the hero and heroine riding off into the sunset together?

Romance novels take readers through the range of emotions. So don’t sell the reader short on the ending. Tie up the loose ends (i.e. give your heroine the final showdown with the bad guy). Don’t make it too easy. Allow your characters to show great sacrifice or courage in their pursuit of love.

Some of my favorite happy endings don’t necessarily have a twist to them, but they are still emotionally satisfying. One example is the classic movie Bringing Up Baby. Throughout the movie, Katherine Hepburn’s character does everything possible to screw up Cary Grant’s life, intentionally and unintentionally. At the end of the movie she ruins his prized, one of a kind reconstructed dinosaur skeleton. But it’s okay. He loves and accepts her with all her faults. Who isn’t looking for someone to love them unconditionally?

I love endings that involve humor. I’ll share one with you from one of my favorite authors, Linda Howard. In her book, To Die For, Blair is being stalked and threatened. The hero and love interest is a cop named Wyatt. At one point in the story, Blair gets shot in the arm. She loudly and repeatedly demands a cookie from the paramedics, just like the cookies given by the Red Cross to donors. Wyatt thinks she’s being high maintenance and overly demanding. He doesn’t understand that the cookie represents comfort to Blair in a time of great stress. 

At the end of the book, after Blair has faced down the person trying to kill her, she complains of a hurt toe to Wyatt.

“A hurt toe?” he said. “Good God. This calls for a cookie.”

I laugh every time I read that line. I always put the book down smiling. I love this ending because it shows how the relationship between Blair and Wyatt has grown, how he’s come to understand her. What woman doesn’t want to be understood like that by the man she loves? And the humor was right in line with the rest of the book.


Okay, time to share. What are your favorite endings? Outside of providing a surprising twist at the end, making sure all loose ends are tied up, and using humor to show character growth, how do you write a knockout ending?


Traci’s debut novel, ENTANGLED, is available in print, Kindle and Nook  format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

When divorced teacher Cassie Miller dreamt about meeting her soul mate, her happily-ever-after didn’t include threats of abduction to a parallel world to help him save his people from imminent destruction.  

Alexos de Werner, exiled prince of a land now under Republican rule, is searching for the woman that can help stop the disasters devastating his home province of Ennis, in his world of Caedmon. Alex will do anything to save his people, even if they don’t want his help. 

Unnerved by the connection she feels with Alex, and the new abilities awakening inside her, Cassie refuses Alex’s request. A nudge from her best friend and a demonstration of Alex’s otherworldly abilities convinces Cassie to help him. 

Once in Caedmon, Cassie must learn to trust Alex and accept her gift before Ennis is lost. Can she open her heart and mind and become the student instead of the teacher?

 Author Meljean Brook joins us on Monday, May 28th, to kick off a week of steampunk!


Bio:  Traci lives near Dallas with her husband, children, and clumsy but lovable 75 lb. boxer named Rowdy. She enjoys reading and writing fantastical or paranormal stories with a twist, where supernatural elements serve as metaphors for the actual struggles people face every day. An avid romance reader, she believes happily-ever-afters do happen in real life, if one is willing to work for it. You can learn more about Traci on her website at, or on Twitter @traci_bell.

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17 Responses to “Don’t Leave Me Hanging – Knockout Happy Endings with Traci Bell”

  1. Hi Traci,

    I cheat and write the end first. I spend the rest of the book getting there. Always wanted to change the endings of Gone with the Wind and Casablanca.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | May 25, 2012, 6:06 am
  2. Hi, Traci. I always like for one of my characters to do something they wouldn’t normally do. It’s usually something that others wouldn’t think of as a huge gesture, but for the character it’s a major step.

    It’s always fun for me to come up with the ending!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 25, 2012, 6:22 am
  3. Morning Traci!

    Oh I’ve read some real stinker endings! The kind that make you throw the book across the room (a real book, not my Kindle!) then pick it up and throw it in the trash. Amazing how violent you can get when a good story has a bad ending!

    Of course, with my Kindle, I have a bit of satisfaction by hitting the DELETE key, but it’s not the same…

    I think most of the books on my “keeper” shelf are there because of good endings – whether they make me laugh or cry, it’s the feeling of satisfaction that all has turned out well that makes me love the romance genre.


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 25, 2012, 7:02 am
  4. Hi Traci!!!

    Oh, I do love a good ending. Happy or otherwise. It is my reward for sticking it out. I can’t focus on one of my faves but I can give an example in how I felt cheated.

    I was a loyal “Bones” watcher for 6 years and I rooted to Booth and Bones to get together through them breaking each others hearts, other relationships, bad timing. And, then when they finally get it right, the show jumps ahead to them as an established couple. BOOO! They deprived me of my chance to see them come together and decide to be together. I was so disappointed, I stopped watching.


    Posted by Robin Covington | May 25, 2012, 8:02 am
  5. Writing the end is almost as hard for me as writing the opening scene. Apart from the emotional toll of reaching the end of a 95K or so story, I’ve also been let down by other book endings and I’d hate to do that to a reader. It’s hard to put yourself in the reader’s place, though, and figure out exactly what will be satisfying to them. Argh! Endings are HARD!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 25, 2012, 8:56 am
  6. Beginnings and endings are something I struggle with. So I am always looking for good advice on those topics.

    I love a great ending, but for me it doesn’t have to be a happy one and it doesn’t have to wrap everything up neatly in a bow. I do need to feel like the character has grown. That we haven’t been on some winding journey for no good reason.You

    Posted by Roxanne | May 25, 2012, 8:57 am
  7. I went through that with my last book. I posted polls on my blog, “Who should she chose?”,”How should it end?” I even considered, “She hears a knock on the door and opens it. The End! But couldn’t leave everyone hanging. For me If a book doesn’t have closure at the end, it tends to ruin the entire book.

    Posted by karensdifferentcorners | May 25, 2012, 11:29 am
  8. Hi Traci,

    I’ve written the ending to a story before I started the first chapter. In some ways, it keeps me focused on the storyline.

    I’ve read my share of bad books, too. Before I started writing, I’d grit it out to the end, but since I started writing, I don’t have the time.

    And if there’s a dog in the story, I want to the dog mentioned in the last chapter. Can’t stand it when I don’t know what happened to the dog. 🙂

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 25, 2012, 12:41 pm
  9. A big thank you to Traci for joining us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 25, 2012, 11:13 pm

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