By Christine Thackeray
For me, there is nothing worse than when a story doesn't end properly. It hankers at my brain and I try to figure out why it doesn't work. Yesterday my daughter was watching SALT with Angelina Jolie. It's got one of those unsatisfying endings. Although I LOVED the action, the end left me saying "Meh." "I am Legend" was the same way. Worst of all was "Unbreakable" by M. Night Shyamalan. Great idea, stupid, stupid ending.
So what makes a good ending? First and foremost, the main character has to have an EPIPHANY and learn some great truth. (If you kill of the main character that can't happen.) That was my issue with Salt. You didn't feel the character had grown from the experience, she played it so dead pan. In the end, a reader wants to get the point of why they have wasted the last two hours or ten hours for a good novel, and if there isn't a great truth at the end, they feel gypped.
Second, don't leave people out in the desert. You need to tie up most subplots. It's a little corny when every single detail turns out perfectly but you need to at least give an idea of where each of the characters you've introduced end up.
Lastly, finish with an image that sticks with you. Ensuing action is fine, the first kiss is great, but who will EVER forget how tacky it was when the last of the original Star Wars ended with the photo shoot at the Ewok village. Stupimongo, right? My personal favorite ending of all time is in "Ever After" with Drew Barrymore. (It just came out on Netflix.) It's a remake of Cinderella and when Angelica Houston comes before the queen, thinking she had won and gets poned, it is a completely satisfying moment.
Ending well makes the reader want to read your next book. Even if there is slowness in the middle, a great ending can make up the difference.