What makes a good ending? What makes a great ending? What is that one thing that takes a breathless reader through those last twenty pages before he puts the book down with a sigh, feeling like the journey was well worth it? What are the keys to forging a solid, leave-em-happy ending? Or, more specifically, what are the issues that make the actuality of that ending a pipe dream? I think I’ve come up with a few:
1) Predictability. No one wants to finish a book when its apparent by mid-point exactly where events are leading.
2) Impossibility. There can’t be some Deus ex Machina ending where the hero not only produces a hat out of thin air, but also waves it with a flourish and yanks out one, two, three little bunnies. The feeling of betrayal or of being had is not a good one with which to leave the readers.
3) Unsatisfactory. Here’s where the waters gray. Some may say a book is unsatisfactory unless everyone lives happily ever after. I think a book is unsatisfactory if everyone lives. Stephen King obviously thinks a story is unsatisfactory unless there’s nary a person left standing (or, if there is, that person is covered in blood, missing a limb or two, and is mentally scarred forevermore). In this arena, research has to be a key element — truly knowing one’s audience and understanding what they feel to be a fitting conclusion.
4) The bane of my new writing existence (and probably the most culpable of the offenders out there) — Flatness. There’s nothing really wrong with an ending of this type; it builds to a climax, resolves the conflict and then ties up all the loose ends. It’s technically on the mark, but somehow doesn’t deliver the grand finale readers crave. There’s no gritting of teeth or twitching of anxious fingers as eyes sweep the last few paragraphs of the page in the hurry to get to the next. There’s no racing of minds to figure out just how all will be resolved. The book simply ends. What remains is a feeling of lacking, that we’ve been cheated of that ending — The ending.
Unfortunately, I could probably list more books that fall under the one of the above categories than those that don’t. Which brings me to the five hundred dollar question, Alex — What makes me any different? Is it the fact that I’ve already mapped the pitfalls? Or that I’m overly conscious of the issues that could send me into a downward spiral of blandness? I’m not so sure. Despite my awareness, I could very well find myself in the exact same position. In fact, I have. The whole reason for rewriting the final chapters of Resonance is because the first ending just… Ended. Even with my plot twist, there was little need to break out the pins and needles.
I’d like to hear from you seasoned writers out there; you who have tread the uncomfortable path of “wrapping up.” How have you managed your endings? And, did they ever shine as brightly as your mind pictured them? And, for the newbies like me, how are you managing? Is the resolution as torturous for you as it has become for me? Let me know. I’m curious to find out.