Avoid utilizing paper dragon at story’s end

Among the most disappointing ways to end a story is to resolve the conflict by using a paper dragon.

A paper dragon is when the villain or a major obstacle facing the main character initially is portrayed as terrifying and incredibly powerful but turns out to actually be paltry and meek. For example, our hero might find that the villain really is a weakling with no special powers other than utilizing sleight of hand to project an imagery of strength. Variations of this include stories that turn out to be dreams – meaning that no real threat ever existed for the hero to resolve – or the policeman who pursues a suspect only to find at the story’s end that criminal actually is an innocent do-gooder whose behavior and actions have been misinterpreted.

Readers usually feel cheated when they come across such stories. They’ve suspended their disbelief and invested their sympathy with the main character for the entire book only to find there’s no payoff. It’s akin to trusting someone to invest your money then discovering that you’ve been duped.

This does not mean that the villain or obstacle at the story’s end has to be exactly as it appears to the main character. For example, the great Oz is no wizard at all but merely uses machinations to create an aura of greatness, yet he still is of superior intelligence and possesses the method (a hot air balloon) and knowledge (click your heels three times and say “There’s no place like home”) to help Dorothy get back home. Most importantly, Dorothy to solve her problem must convince employ her moral superiority to convince him to provide help.