Closure and Cliffhangers: Coming to the End

Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop

Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop

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.)

Closure Needed

 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?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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12 Responses to Closure and Cliffhangers: Coming to the End

  1. sknicholls says:

    Series books that stop abruptly without any closure drive me nuts. and make me want to throw them away unless there is already the next book available. I’ll wait years to get all the books in a series before reading the first.

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    • That’s a tough call. I do the rereading approach or waiting for 3-4 books to come out for a long series. My reason is because I want to support the author as he/she writes to make sure they still have some income or know that people are interested. This stems from getting into various comics and manga that abruptly ended because the audience wasn’t big enough. It’s kind of caused a fear of such a fate happening to me.

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      • sknicholls says:

        I’ll buy them and collect them up, but won’t start or finish reading until the series is all out there. Curious about something though. The 10% deal with Kindle Unlimited. If I just push the bar over past 10% does it register as having been read to 10%?

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      • I’ve been wondering about that myself. I assume it still counts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon has something set up to catch rapid pushes to 10%. No idea how it would be done, but I always think they’re ready for those types of things. Probably because of how they ‘hunt’ for family and friend reviews.

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  2. claire.luana says:

    I’m a happy ending kind of girl. I read for pleasure, so why would I want a character I have grown to love to die at the end? I also like it when the author adds a scene or epilogue at the end to show me how all is now right with the world. It’s like the author is waving goodbye to you. Warm fuzzy feeling, acquired.

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    • I’m kind of the same. I can handle a sad ending if things seem to be going that way. This is probably why I like ensemble stories because you get a combination. I’m aiming to do that with my books and I’m planning an epilogue too. I don’t think they get used enough and I hear a lot of people disliking them. Something about wanting to dream about their life without the author’s influence, but I think they give closure to the author as well.

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  3. renxkyoko says:

    That was the reason why I was 100% sure Harry would live. Hundreds of million readers, young and adults alike had invested too much into the character of Harry Potter, so to not let him live is like killing people’s dreams and hopes.

    I hate open-ended endings. I want closure and resolutions. Cowboy Bebop is like this. But I’d like to believe he didn’t die. And I have proofs.

    I hate tragedy. I read to entertain myself, and love happy endings. There’s so much tragedy in real time already.

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    • I think Harry could have had a decent death depending on how it was done. Though you’d still have too many people angry about it. Maybe that’s a danger of getting really famous with a book series. It can make it hard to give a fatal finale to a character . . . unless you’re George R.R. Martin.

      I agree with you about Spike. It seemed too likely and ‘right’ that he died. That’s why I got nervous when I heard about the movie years ago. Good that it was a story from before the ending. As far as tragedy, I would point at Spike for this. I don’t like a sad ending, but something about a character dying after that kind of finale doesn’t feel as bad as if he was killed and the villain won.

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  4. I like wrapping a story and have all the current issues resolved but leave a couple of points up in the air. For example, My GRL ended with the protagonist bandaged up, in the hospital and his friend filling him in on how things were finished. The next book opens at that spot with some new news about the characters. If the reader only read the first all would be good and no need to move on (damn). It also is not necessary to read the first to be up to speed on the second.

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  5. tjtherien says:

    this was interesting… happy or sad aside, I try to have a story end where it begins (sort of) for example in “Rise of the Dark Queen” the book begins with Rianon being impregnated and ends with her giving birth, neither have much to do with the story arc of the first book but will factor into the second book when I set to writing it Nov. 1st. I have this thing with stories going full circle. which is funny because circles have neither beginning or end… oh well who says a writer’s logic must make sense…

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    • Logic is in the eye of the beholder. Definitely not in the brain for some people. Interesting method of doing a full circle book. It gives the sense that events will continue after the finale even if another book doesn’t get written. Not so much leaving plot points open, but you feel that the world will go on.

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