Ciao, SEers! This is my last post of the year, and it’s only fitting it’s on endings. I wrote one back in 2018 that discussed, among other things, climaxes, themes, and last lines in endings. Today, we’re going to go a little deeper and talk about what endings need to do and how to execute them effectively.
- What should an ending do?
You probably just rolled your eyes and thought, “End the story.” Yes, it should. But how? An ending should take the story’s emotional meaning to its highest level of tension before finally resolving all the loose ends. If the stakes aren’t raised to their highest heights, you run the risk of a low-impact story. The reader will be left feeling empty at the end.
- How can you achieve this monumental feeling?
You want to aim for a sudden reversal of fortune. In an Aristotelian comedy (95% of stories are Aristotelian comedies, which we discussed in the Nutshell Method posts), your hero needs to believe all is lost right before the climax. Then, suddenly, there is hope. This sudden swell of potential and the reversal of fate is what gives importance to his resolution.
- Shorter time between climax and end, the better.
Denouements that go on and on result in ending fatigue. Say what you want about Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy. After the ring was destroyed, that movie should have wrapped up in a few minutes, max. The scene after scene after scene after scene… well, you get the picture. Ending fatigue. It’s hard to give Jackson props for an epic trilogy when people forget how good it was because they were falling asleep waiting for the credits to roll while we watched kings ascending and weddings in the shire and hobbits sailing away and… I don’t even remember what all nonsense happened at the end. I just know it went on for way too long.
- End with a note of uncertainty after a clear climax (where all the dire stakes are resolved).
This one might cause a fight in the comments. If it does, fight nice, kids. Some people like endings that have no ambiguity. Other people love endings that spark discussion. Truth be told, I enjoy the latter once in a while. Consider the ending of Inception. People are still arguing over it. The big mystery boxes are closed. But now there’s a small one cracked open. (Or is there?) It leaves room for a sequel, if the writer is so inclined. Even if the author isn’t, it creates a lot of buzz. And buzz is good.
Like I said, fight nice.
- The closer all the plots are resolved to each other, the better.
This is really more for people who have a huge cast in their stories. If you have one hero and one villain, you probably only have one plot to resolve. I tend to write bigger. I have a series with eight POV characters with a whole population of villains as well as a few antagonists. I had a lot of plots to resolve. It’s a lot more desirable to have them all intersecting and wrapping up around the same time than it is to have one ending at the mid-point, one around the three-quarter mark, one at eighty percent, and the rest trickling in near the end. It feels like there’s no cohesion to the story or the plot threads. Even if the plots don’t intersect (and it’s better if they do, but they don’t necessarily have to), having them all end at the same time makes them feel like they’re all intertwined.
- Revisit the opening.
One of my favorite techniques for ending a story and reinforcing its message is to echo the beginning. Maybe that means repeating words verbatim (or close). Maybe that means using the same image. Maybe the echo is implied but we see a distinct difference. In any event, the callback is a nice way to bring your story full circle as you bring it to a close.
So, I’m ending 2021 with a post on endings. Thanks for sticking with me. If you’ve got any thoughts on ways to wrap things up as we wrap up this year, I’d love to hear them. And, comment or not, let me leave you with my final thought… a wish for you and your loved ones to have a happy and healthy new year. 🎉 🍾 🥂 🎆