Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Can't Believe it's the Ending

Well, we looked at endings that should be stayed away from, but that doesn't actually help decide what is actually a good way to end a story, after all, every story is different (if they weren't then we would all be very boring people).

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.


Stina said...

Another brilliant post! If you keep this up, I have a feeling you're going to be featured regularly on my Cool Links Friday. You've just bumped off a link I had planned for tomorrow which was to accommpany your other one. This one is much better than the one by the published author. :D

Anonymous said...

This was absolutely wonderful and as stated above, brilliant!

Thanks for stopping by my blog and "following" me, I'm going to follow you right back.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I think mine qualifies most as a 'Life Goes On' ending. I love all of those endings though, when I'm reading other people's work. Good post!

Unknown said...

I like the twisty ending the best--if done correctly. Too often, it's not. I really want to completely NOT know what the end is--a total twist. That's what makes the story perfect.

Unknown said...

Cool post! I like all of those. Though I don't think I've ever read a story where the bad guy actually wins overall. Maybe a book out of the series, but not in the final book.

Dawn Simon said...

I always think I know how it will end, but I'm not always right. In fact, I revised my last ms so it could end quite differently than it did in the first draft.

Angela said...

Wonderful post! Endings are, indeed, very important to books. Obviously we all want the reader to keep reading until the end, but we also want them to be impressed by the ending, per the examples you've given.

Unknown said...

Mine is not unexpected, at least I should say that as a reader you will know about 20 pages to the end what she is contemplating between, I will say that it is an ending that will make you think, it may not be the ending you want but it's the right one. Luckily for me it's a series so I can make you happier in the second, but you'll still be satifisfied with the ending... I think, lol!

Unknown said...

@Stina. Wow, I don't know what to say. I'm glad you liked it. I had fun trying to classify the endings (I'm a big movie buff and read a lot so these are just things I've noticed)

@Catherine. Thanks for following.

@Query Girl. Life goes on is the most popular ending, but at least they don't try to hide the fact that everyone is continuing their lives.

@Beth. I totally agree. You can see when people are trying to throw in a twist right at the end and it doesn't make any sense because they haven't hinted to it being a logical ending. I love the ones that requires me to think back and try and find the clues that would suggest it's possible.

@Nisa. Thanks, I've not read a book where the bad guys wins either, but I know that Stephen King has at least done something like that once in one of his novella's. There are a lot of movies in the horror/thriller genre that does this though, and if done well they are fantastic.

@Dawn. My MS has changed several times and the ending hasn't remained the same. I would like to say I'm aiming for a twist, but I don't know if it's not too predictable.

@Angela. Thanks, endings are just as important as the beginning (even though a lot of stories are a let down because of this), you want the reader to be left wanting another story, whether it's from the same series or just another one. Getting them to come back is probably the hardest thing a writer has to try and accomplish.

@Jen. A satisfied ending is all any reader can hope for.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Great post! I usually aim for a twist. I think I laid the groundwork properly in my last novel - so far my beta readers like it. I did it wrong in my first, since most beta readers didn't see it coming, even though I was afraid I'd telegraphed the ending.

Unknown said...

@Deb. I always aim for a twist, but since I know what's coming I don't know if I'm successful each time. It's great that your beta's like it, that's a big success.

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