Analysis, inspiration

Endings that Pop

TLDR: At best, that ending moment in which the tide turns for the protagonist is a simple action, obvious in hindsight, with profound consequences.

This post is eventually going to contain major spoilers for Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker as well as Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell. I’ll warn you again when I get close to said spoilers.

I’ve been posting about early revision and late revision and the process of planning a novel, and I followed all the steps myself, but as I started writing scenes and chapters I got worried.

What if the ending isn’t good enough?

So I started thinking about what makes a good ending. That, of course, got me thinking about Brandon Sanderson. Fans of Sanderson know that he writes stories with systemic elements. Magic in the worlds he writes has rules and Sanderson elaborates on the rules over the course of a story, but he never breaks the rules. This lets him lead the reader to climactic moments in which simple actions can have profound consequences.

I’m going to list the rules, tools, and their use in the climactic moment (and then analyze them) for Warbreaker and Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell. Here come the MAJOR SPOILERS. (They are great stories. You should really read them if you haven’t. My spoilers are going to reveal everything and do no justice to the stories themselves.)


In Warbreaker there is a magic system based on Breath, which is something like a soul that can be transferred around like currency. The more Breath a person has, the more power. Magic “spells” still need to be spoken.

When some people die they come back as gods with the ability to heal one supplicant, but they give their life to do it. Lastly, there is the God King, a mysterious being containing an immense number of Breaths.

Over the course of the book, the reader learns that the God King is mute (he’s had his tongue cut out) and, to summarize in an incredibly crass fashion, the God King is actually a good dude and its his priests who are the bad dudes keeping the God King under their control while acting as if they worship him.

When all seems lost, one of the gods gives his life to heal the God King’s tongue, unlocking his power and then all the baddies get a good thrashing.


In Shadows for Silence it’s established that deadly Shades roam the forest, getting triggered into murderous rage over all manner of things from blood, to loud noise, to fast movement. The Shades are blocked or repulsed by silver so the eponymous Silence protects the tavern she operates deep in the dangerous forest with a ring of silver. Silence also has a large safe, which, as I recall, we are told is lined with silver. Silence is a survivor and she’s willing to do terrible things to survive. That’s what her grandmother taught her and she took the lesson to heart.

Many events transpire, but critically we learn some of Silence’s backstory, how her grandmother was a cruel, but skilled woman who trained Silence to be the survivor that she is today.

In the end, the villain corners Silence within the ring of her tavern. The villain has every advantage. Then Silence opens the safe and it turns out that what’s in side is the Shade of her grandmother, who leaps out and kills the villain.


Both turning point moments are well established and follow the rules of the world. The Warbreaker moment is particularly good in that it’s obvious in hindsight and some readers might have even predicted it. The Silence ending is particularly good in that it has an impact on multiple levels. Not only has Silence saved the day, but she did it literally using her cruel, dead grandmother in a cruel, but survivalist manner.

Both turning points are plot AND character moments. The god character has been worrying over how to use his gift the whole book and he finally makes a great choice. Silence is shown to be even more brutally pragmatic than the reader may have realized.

Both actions that are taken are simple and clear, especially in the case of Silence. All she does is open the door. But the impact is profound.

Having said all this, the difference between analyzing someone else’s ending and writing one’s own is massive. I still have questions of my own. Does Sanderson come up with the ending first and then figure out how to write what leads up to it to have the biggest impact, or does he imagine his world and then figure out how to craft the elements into a great ending.

I suspect it’s not a strict either/or, but a mix of both.

Good luck writers with your own twisty, surprise moments!


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