Saturday, August 15, 2009

What Makes a Great Ending?

By Christine Thackeray

Sometimes when we put a book down or walk out of a movie, there is a feeling of complete satisfaction. The book was "right" and you want to the shake the author's hand. Other times you want to throw the book against the wall or ask for your money back at the theatre. But what makes an ending work or not.

This week I've been working on short stories. One of the benefits of that form is it gives you practice in creating a concise story arc with a satisfying conclusion. What interested me is that the ending was the most difficult part. This is why I struggled:

  1. Don't beat a dead horse- After I made my point, I kept on going. Sort of like disciplining a teenager, once you've said your peace you need to be quiet. It is not effective to nag, especially as a writer.
  2. What's the point- A story is different than a journal entry. When you finish there has to be an epiphany, a new insight, that the story awakens in you or at least an emotive response. Like a good joke, in the end there has to be something to "get." If not, then it isn't really a story at all.
  3. Letting the reader do his part- If you have to explain everything in the end, then you haven't done a good job in the middle. In two of my stories I had to lighten the end so that the reader could finish the equations and finish the story feeling complete. Sometimes stopping just before the end can work.
  4. Echo the first scene- To illustrate character growth, I really like it when the final scene mirrors the first in some way. The best is when the mirror isn't easily recognized but still there.
  5. Stop at the end- I don't know if you've every read a story that went too long. Once the central conflict is complete STOP! Many stories stop at the first kiss rather than show the wedding because the wedding goest without a hitch and is BORING. Although I'd love to see what happed after Rhett said "Frankly, Scarlett" I don't give a damn." I never watched "Scarlett" because I really felt the story was over. I didn't need or want to see more.

So what are your favorite endings?


Jolynn said...

I like happy and also unsuspected endings. Such as the killer wasn't who I thought it was. And they found the killer even though sometimes it doesn't sound like they will ever find out what really happens. Then everything falls into place.
My favorite authors are Mary HIggins Clark,Anita Stasfield and all LDS authors, of course.
I liked the advice about story endings.

Heather Justesen said...

Story endings can be the hardest parts to write (and kudos on the short stories, I just can't do them, they never feel finished. I guess my brain isn't wired that way). I'm still struggling to fix the ending on a book I finished writing months ago. I'm still not getting that complete, warm fuzzy feeling that's so important in a romance. *sigh*

JoAnn Arnold said...

I've never written a short story but I really like your ideas and I think I might try it just to see if I can. Thank you.

Impkatt said...

I love when you turn the last page and feel satisfaction that all is well in the world, all the bad guys are dead, that love is found, that one part of the journey is done.
As a reader THAT is the best part (IMHO).

Valerie Ipson said...

Great points, Christine!