Getting to Grips with the Ending - Part 2
Part 1 looked at why endings are important and why writers often struggle with them. In this concluding part we’ll look at the different types writers can use.
Endings are as unique as every story; however, there are some formulaic endings that writers like to use. There’s nothing wrong with this – writers stick with things that work and these types of endings work effectively. Not only that, but it really depends on the kind of story and plot you have that determines what ending you choose, whether that’s a natural conclusion, a twist ending or a completely crazy ending.
The main thing is that, whatever ending you do have, it must make sense.
The Twist Ending
This is a common ending among writers, but possibly the hardest to achieve, and that’s because it has to be executed correctly. If not, it will fail. The surprise or twist is that the reader won’t anticipate what happens – the ending will be a complete shock.
To get this type of ending right, you have to ensure that the story contains clues and hints and that you make use of foreshadowing. Most of all, you have to wrong-foot the reader by making them believe they might know how the story ends, but through clever misdirection and a few red-herrings, they’ll be in for a surprise.
The surprise works because it’s completely unexpected. It’s not the easiest to achieve because if the reader is smart enough to follow the clues and hints, and overstep the red-herrings, they may guess the twist at the end, therefore that element of surprise will fail.
This type of ending needs a lot of planning and thought for it to work.
A mainstream ending is what most writers choose. In other words, the hero saves the day, defeats the villain and gets the girl, or something very similar. In other words, by the end, all is well with the world and the characters, the antagonist is no more and everything will be fine. This is the nearest thing to the ‘happy ever after’ ending, but real life isn’t actually like that. If you choose this type of ending, it’s worth bearing in mind the following:
- Protagonists are not superheroes. They will get hurt.
- Villains don’t always lose.
- The hero doesn’t always get the girl/boy. She/he might dump the hero at the end.
- Protagonists don’t always get what they want.
- Mainstream endings aim to make the reader happy because it’s what they usually want. But Utopian endings are for fairy tales and romances. Don’t be afraid to be slightly different with your mainstream ending. Being different is what writing is about.
Open to Interpretation Ending
Endings can sometimes be ambiguous or deliberately inconclusive. They’re constructed that way so that the reader can draw their own conclusions about what happens or is likely to happen beyond the words ‘The End’. But they still need to be satisfactory to the reader, even if you don’t give them all the answers. These open-ended conclusions generally raise more questions, but in doing so the reader will think about the story and come up their own answers.
These types of ending usually indicate there are sequels, trilogies or they are part of a series of books, and that the story will continue until they are finally concluded.
Does ‘The End’ mean the end? Not necessarily. After an ending, there tends to be the resolution. The job of the resolution is to show what has happened to the characters since the climax. It also helps to smooth out the plot and wrap up everything so that the reader can close the book feeling content that the ending is A) the right one B) logical and C) plausible and satisfactory.
Do you have to include a resolution? Not if you don’t want to. Plenty of writers choose not to. When the climax is done, the story is done and there is no need to go any further. Again, it depends on the story and the characters. That decision is entirely up to the author.
Endings - What Not to Do
There are some things to keep in mind with endings so that they work rather than fail. The following are common errors found with endings:
Don't introduce deus ex machina. In other words, don’t have an unexpected power or event or unknown person swoop in and save the day and everything is rosy. This is a sham and the reader will not thank you for it.
Don’t milk your resolution. After an exciting climax, don’t then spend three or four pages of boring exposition explaining everything to the reader. The end should mean The End.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Writers go overboard sometimes as they try to wrap up all the multiple sub plots and threads, and it becomes a jumbled mess that makes no sense. Keep the ending simple.
A great ending for any novel should make sure it makes sense, is plausible to the reader and is, above all, is the most satisfactory ending for the story. Not every story is a happy ending. But whatever it is, it needs to be right.
Next week: Should your characters be flawless?