Even if you’re nervous about writing the ending of your story, it has to get done. You can’t simply walk away and hope people forgive you. There has to be closure to some extent or even a mysterious ending that keeps people talking. After all, you brought the readers along for an adventure and they stuck with you to the end. There should be some kind of payoff even if you believe the author owes the readers nothing. I believe the author does owe a solid ending if for no other reason than it is an act of seriousness. For some reason leaving a story unfinished feels wrong to me and I’m talking solely about stories that seem to end abruptly.
So here are some pieces of an ending:
Happy Ending/Sad Ending
This is a big debate, which I never realized could get heated. There are people who feel that happy endings are unrealistic, so they make sure to end with tragedy. Other people think the world is harsh enough, so they prefer to end on a high note and not add to the jading of humanity. Either way, you should make sure the ending fits the overall tone of the book. It might be jarring and fun to have an upbeat story end with utter destruction, but you should make that a possibility at least. What I mean is that the possibility of failure should be there instead of pushing the idea that success is the only ending. Same goes for writing a dark, depressing book where nothing goes write and there’s an abrupt rise to happiness in the last chapter. People remember bad endings more than good beginnings, good middles, and good endings. So you have to make sure the conclusion is solid, fits, and isn’t just you going ‘FOOLED YOU, READER!’. (Yeah, I’ll probably have arguments about this one.)
Even if you leave an opening for a future adventure, you need to bring some closure to the end of a story. This includes the latest volume of a series. There has to be a sense that something has ended by the time the reader closes the book. It can be the completion of a quest, finding the item to carry on to the next stage, conclusion of a subplot, or the promotion of a supporting character. My point is that you need the reader to believe that they have an ending. It doesn’t matter if another book will come out with events taking place a few months later or if this is the end of the overall adventure. Readers love closure because it helps them feel like they invested their time, energy, and emotions wisely. This is where beta readers can come in really hand too.
The Dreaded Cliffhanger
‘Cowboy Bebop’ ends with some ambiguity in regards to the true fate of Spike Spiegel. The picture at the top is his final scene before he collapses after the big fight. Some people think he died and others think he was saved. Now, creating a cliffhanger seems to go against the idea of closure and that is why so many people hate them. Yet, you can end a story on this if you do it correctly. The biggest way to make a cliffhanger work as a story ender is to have it be in regards to a character’s fate, but not the main adventure. With that central plot over, the story comes to a close and the heroes can be left in a state of ‘what now?’. This can create a lot of speculation from fans, which can keep a story’s popularity going for a while. You’re going to have some people that are angry that not every thread is closed up, but that’s the risk with a cliffhanger.
Benefit of Multiple Character Story Arcs
If you’re working with an ensemble cast then you have what some authors can consider a ‘luxury’. Not every character needs a happy, sad, or completely closed ending. You can end some characters with marriage, some with death, and leave one or two ambiguous fates. This can include villains too if your story can end with them simply being defeated instead of killed. The downside here is that you might get caught in an extended ending sequence in order to cover everyone’s storyline. It’s easier if all of the characters stay connected like in the epilogue of Harry Potter, but sometimes you might have one or two characters that disappear from the lives of the others. Feel free to play with the idea of giving a variety of closures if you’re writing such a story because there really are no true rules to this.
So, anybody else have any thoughts on endings?