Each ending should be distinct and different. You don't want readers to turn around and say that the ending you worked so hard on is actually too cliche or predictable. I know that if the ending really let me down then I don't want to pick up the next book (unless the rest of the story was good). I've even wanted to walk out of movies ten minutes before they ended because the ending really went downhill (they should have finished the movie ten minutes before the actual end and it would have been better).
So, today I've looked extensively at the endings of movies and books that I've absolutely adored. Most of them can be classified under the following:
- Life Goes On Ending
The main obstacle has been overcome, the hero either wins or loses and life can continue. But life being life, means things are not neat and tidy. The writer actually acknowledges things are still progressing, even if the main challenge that they were trying to overcome has being defeated. Often these endings lead to another clue being revealed or gives a hint that there's still more mysteries left to solve, which dangles a little bit of bait in the readers face and whispers in their ear, "You have to wait till the next book to find out." As long as the main goal of the story is wrapped up, then it's okay to leave the reader wanting more.
- Unexpected Twist
These are the ending where the writer throws in something that the reader is not prepared for. Don't get me wrong, the writer has to do a lot of set up, throwing hints all the way through the story so that it doesn't seem too random. These are the stories I love the most, and these mostly come from psychological thrillers (well, they're the ones I watch the most).
Here, you are following the character and all the clues points to "the butler" as the guilty bad guy, but did you notice the crooked picture or a stain on the carpet that was mentioned in the detail that you just passed off as the writer getting carried away with description. And then, the ending comes and you're wrong. The one you thought was really behind it was really trying to protect the MC while that distant character that was always in the background of every scene was the real villain.
- Method in the Madness Ending
If done well, I really like these endings. These endings are where the (dare I say it...) the bad guy wins. These endings have to be taken with care and there has to be a reason why the character that the reader/viewer has staked a good chunk of time following, getting to know and experiencing all the ups and downs on this journey would lose. I've seen some smashing movies where the bad guy wins (these are usually psychological thrillers again, or sometimes even horrors) and they were fantastic, but on the other end I've seen some where the bad guy wins and there's no survivors because the writer wanted it to be gory and gross (these mainly are horror/slasher films).
I haven't read any books where the bad guy actually does win (mainly because I stick with YA a lot of the time and it doesn't seem to fit with that genre), but when dealing with these types of ending the writer has to be careful about not kicking the MC when they're down, but to either show there's no hope of winning or be leading up to an Unexpected Twist which has been carefully plotted out.
And no, killing your character off at the end of the novel because he's pissed you off doesn't count as having the villain win.
- Time Loop
Oh, I love these sort of endings, so I had to throw it in. These stories always involves some form of time travel or prophecy. This is the endings where it is revealed that the character cannot escape their fate and things are destined to repeat, no matter what the character does to try and stop it. This can also be classified as "Self-fulfilling Prophecy" where the character knows their fate (or even the villain) and they set out to stop it from happening, usually setting the exact things in motion, so no matter what they do, they are destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again.
I think when I'm writing my story I always aim for the unexpected twist (even though that often fails and I'm just left with a life goes on type). So, do you know where your stories are going to end before you get there? Or, do you just write and hope the character will end up in a logical but different place.