A story, like all “good things,” must come to an end. The ending, also known as Denouement, is as important to the story as the Beginning and the Middle . A good ending leaves the reader with a sense that the story has come to a logical, satisfying conclusion. For writers, it's important to remember what an ending shouldn’t do. By understanding what constitutes a weakly executed ending, we're more likely to avoid these pitfalls in our writing.
A story ending SHOULDN’T:
Leave Unanswered Questions – Regardless of the length of a story, be it flash fiction or a novel, the ending should tie up all the loose plot strings. All issues, minor or major, introduced in a story must serve a purpose and move the plot forward. By the end of the story, the reader should have answers to all questions posed in the narration and have learned how the character(s) cleared all their obstacles.
Make the Reader Decide What Happened – You want your reader to feel satisfied by the outcome of the story. This doesn’t mean you need to spoon-feed exactly what happens in a play-by-play commentary. Readers enjoy having enough information to imagine what happens next, beyond The End. What frustrates most readers is realizing the story has led them to a plot intersection, and the author has placed on their shoulders the burden of deciding how the story ends.
Be Too Abrupt – Have you ever read a story that was chugging along at an enjoyable pace, and suddenly it was over? This usually happens when the climactic scene is pushed up against the ending, and the writer skipped right over the falling action. Authors need to be mindful of the pacing of events and manipulate the emotional impact each moment has on the reader. The reader should be left with the impression the ending was the natural conclusion to the story, the terrain that leveled out at the bottom of the hill, rather than feel like the plot had been pushed off a cliff.
Be Too Long – Another pacing problem occurs when the time between the climactic scene and the story’s end is too long. The story seems to fizzle out. All the excitement of earlier scenes is forgotten. If your ending is too long-winded, you risk boring your reader.
Be Illogical – Your ending must make sense on two fronts, Plot and Character(s):
Plot: Resolution of the central problem has to be achieved by means of a logical chain of events. Suspension of belief is sacrificed when the ending promotes a breakdown of cause and effect. The reader simply won’t buy it.
Characters: If during the story’s ending, a character behaves in a way that is in direct contrast with his or her established personality, with no logical explanation for the shift in behavior, the reader is going to raise an eyebrow. The character, and the ending, will feel false and contrived.
Be Too Predictable – Readers love a story with a twist. It doesn’t have to be something earth-shattering. However, a creative ending that sheds new light on what the reader believed to be true will ‘up’ the entertainment factor of the whole story. On the other hand, if the reader has suspected a predictable ending since the rising action, s/he will feel let down, and the entire story will seem uninspired and weak.
Have a “Night in Shining Armor” Save the Day – Readers want to feel emotionally invested in the main character’s future. They embrace the hero or heroine, who is flawed with conflicts s/he must rise above in the course of the story. When readers have been rooting for the heroine, cheering her on through her struggles, they aren’t going to appreciate someone else swooping in at the end of the story and saving the day.
The ending you write is important to the overall success of your story. It will show how far your characters have come since the beginning and wrap up their story. A clever ending leaves your readers inspired, satisfied, and intrigued. And even the strongest writing will fall short on the reader’s entertainment yardstick if the ending is weak.
The following article is a must-read! Willie Meikle explains ten overdone, clichéd endings that he feels, (and I agree!), should be avoided at all costs:
10 Story Endings To Avoid
I just finished reading The Giver, by Lois Lowry. (Look for my review in tomorrow's post.) The ending is cryptic and could be interpreted in several different ways. Do you like endings that ask you to interpret their meanings? Or do you prefer an ending that gives you the sense that you know what has, or will, happen? Is a "good ending" a "happy ending," in your view?