To complete her three-part series on the various parts of a story, Icy Sedgwick finishes off, unsurprisingly, with Endings.
You’ve started writing at a furious rate, leaving behind that “difficult” Beginning, and you’ve navigated the treacherous waters of “The Middle“. You know that it’s coming, and that this is what you’ve been writing towards, yet actually coming to The End can be incredibly hard. You’ve spent your entire short story or novel with your cast of characters, you’ve put them through hell, and now it’s time for your big finale. The only problem is… it falls flat. Or worse – you don’t even get there. Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep those fingers on those keys, and get you across the finishing line.
Does Your Story “End” More Than Once?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to see a film, got to the ending, prepared to leave, and then discovered there are a handful of scenes left to play out. I’ve read scores of novels that do the same thing. Sometimes stories can feel like they’ve come to an end, only for the story to continue until it comes to another ending, only to continue again. The problem here is that a writer either didn’t really know what the ending of their story would be before they got to it, or they didn’t know how to approach the ending when they finally reached it. Readers will be able to tell if you fumble around, hoping the story will end itself. Even if you’re a die hard “pantser”, make sure you know your ending in advance, and when you reach it, commit to it.
Does Your Ending Fizzle Out?
Sometimes we’ve put so much effort into the beginning and the middle that we’ve run out of steam by the time we get to the end. Writers can sometimes either rush the ending, so that it’s all over in the space of a couple of paragraphs, or the ending fizzles out like a wet firework. Remember, the beginning and the middle must set up the ending, and all of the action you’ve set into motion throughout the story MUST reach a climax. That would be like Jane Austen cutting the last three chapters of Pride & Prejudice and simply adding a footnote to say Elizabeth gets her man, or film fans seeing the destruction of the Death Star taking place in just three minutes of footage. You’ve put in all that work setting up the story, so make sure the pay off is worth it.
Do You Have Too Many Loose Ends?
Unless you’re planning to write a series, you need to make sure that your loose ends are either tied off, or explained away, before the ending of the story. The last thing you want is a reader getting to the end and saying “That’s all very well, but what about X?” They’ll feel cheated if you’ve left things dangling, and it leads to a reading experience that provides little narrative satisfaction. Even if you are writing a series, it’s often best to tie up the story-specific loose ends in such a way that the reader feels satisfied, but things are still left open for another story. So if your hero defeats a villain, but the villain’s sister escapes, ready to wreak havoc in the next story, make sure the plot involving the hero and the villain is completely resolved by the end of the story, and that readers know the sister has escaped, and that she hasn’t simply vanished from the story.
Is Your Ending Plausible?
Another problem you can have is an ending that doesn’t feel right. Your final act may see your character having a major epiphany, and turning their life around, but if we haven’t seen the build up throughout the beginning and the middle, we won’t buy into the character’s sudden change of heart. Likewise, avoid endings in which the day is only saved through some miraculous event that has not been seen at all throughout the story. To use Star Wars again, that would be like watching Luke do nothing but farm work, and then suddenly have him discover he’s an ace pilot in the last twenty minutes. We believe that Luke can do it because we’ve seen him building up to it throughout the film. Make sure your ending is plausible in the same way. It might be totally implausible compared to real life, but if it makes sense in the universe of the story, then that’s what your readers will believe.
Does The Ending You’ve Written End The Story You Started?
It might sound like a bizarre question, but I can’t recall the number of times I’ve read a story or watched a film where the ending was brilliant, but it didn’t actually end the story I’d started reading or watching, as if the writer got bored halfway through and completely changed tack, but forgot to go back and alter the beginning accordingly. It might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but sometimes you really do need to remind yourself just what your story is about before you can finish it. I really don’t subscribe to the theory that you need to just keep writing until you finish before you read what you’ve written – I often find that re-reading what I’ve written is enough to refresh the story, and remind me just what it was I wanted to say. If you forget, it’s too easy to wander off the track, and deviate along unnecessary tangents. There’s nothing worse than an ending that has nothing to do with the rest of the story.
What about you? What other methods do you have for making sure your stories go out in style?