I don’t often talk about endings, mainly because they’re the hardest to get to. Some stories stop halfway, so there is never an ending to speak of. Others drag on so long that the end is never in sight (I’m looking at certain manga and comics right now). And if you think about it, the ending is really the least important part of a story, right? If you can’t even nail the beginning and the middle right, readers won’t be bothered to read through to the fantastic end.
I agree entirely with that argument (it is my own argument after all). However, there’s what they call the divide between the good and the great. Good stories have a good beginning, conflict, climax, etcetera. Great stories follow that up with a good resolution.
Resolutions can be really hard to write. You may think that your tale has ended, but how do you express it to your readers? Traditional fairytales use “and they lived happily ever after” as a cue to close the book. J K Rowling used “His scar had not hurt for nineteen years. All is well,” the well-known ending that finished off right at the corner of the last page and left readers flipping bemusedly expecting more. Sure, no doubt that small confusion over the ending did nothing to lower the quality of the smashing Harry Potter series. 1 sentence can’t erase 7 books’ worth of goodness. But what if your story isn’t as popular or well-written as Harry Potter, and then you end off this way?
Anne Tyler, my favourite author ever, was interviewed before on when her stories ended, since she writes realistic fiction and real life doesn’t always have a very clear full stop, does it? She said that she ends a story when she feels that her characters are able to get by on their own now without her. In a sense throughout the book she had been hand-holding her characters, telling them what to do next, and the end comes when the characters are able to face life on their own, when she can imagine how their life will turn out without needing to intervene.
I’m writing this entry for 2 reasons. First, I’ve just written a roleplay post that kinda sorta ends off a big chapter of the story — the remaining portion is more of an epilogue than anything. However, I didn’t think that I ended it perfectly, though I was conscious of making it look like a resolution. And this is important; many stories have endings that don’t seem like convincing endings at all. You almost wonder if the author’s going to plan a sequel.
Second, I was learning about life narratives in Personality Psychology, and endings is one element of our life narrative — the way we weave events in our life into a coherent narrative and make meaning of them. Our life narrative may be characterised by a redemptive sequence, meaning that past negative experiences are re-constructed into positive lessons where we derive meaning in our lives. It can be simplified as the “it was all for the best, as it turns out” line. Redemptive narratives are also powerful in writing, because they show a character’s maturity, and help all the events in the conflict and climax fall into place.
I think the simplest element of a good ending is that something has got to visibly change. It could be the character’s life, or some aspects of his personality, or his worldview. It could be for the better or for the worse (in the case of tragedies). Of course, if you intend to write a cliffhanger, that is another skill entirely which I may go into in a future entry.
Ironically, I spent a few moments pondering how to end off this blog entry. Maybe I should just go with something like…