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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Problem of Endings #WriterlyWednesdays

The Problem of Endings

So we've slogged through creating the characters, the world, the plot and only one thing is left: the ending. I can hear the dramatic music in my head.

Now, I don't know about you, but the ending can make or break a story for me. A bad ending can strip away all the pleasure I've felt during the book/film/tv show and destroy it for me. This makes writing them somewhat stressful.

Endings are hard!

Hands up who has had something ruined by a terrible ending (and I don't mean just tragedies, which I understand some people love). I'm more talking about endings that don't make sense, or are simply flat.

This topic came to me today, because, yes, I am struggling with an ending. I have a novella entered into the Open Novella Contest over at Wattpad (Mina's Children: The Legacy of Dracula). There are three rounds to the contest:

  • Round 1 - write 2K words
  • Round 2 - add another 6K words to take the novella to 8K
  • Round 3 - complete the novella to 20K
At each round authors are eliminated, and yay, I'm into round three. Of course this means coming up with the ending.

We've all done it, writers, haven't we, plotted and schemed and come up with things we love and then ... the big question comes of how to finish it.

Last week I didn't have an ending at all, now I have two, possibly three, and I'm not sure which way to go.

I've heard it said by some that a surprising ending is the best, but I have to disagree. Too many times a show, book or film has come up with surprising ending that's just terrible. There are many things to take into account for a good ending, and these are some of the things I think about.
  • An ending needs a payoff - we've dragged our readers through trials and tribulations, through twists and turns and the ending is where they get their reward. It does not have to be the conclusion of everything, but we can't skimp on what we have promised. This is most important in series because there is a balance. We have to make sure there is enough for our readers to want to continue to the next part, but if we don't give them enough of a payoff in the current one they're going to be upset with us anyway.
  • An ending needs to be true to our characters - this is where the surprise ending sometimes fall flat. It's all well and good giving our audience a shock, but if that shock betrays the characterisation of our protagonists, they're unlikely to enjoy it. For example, having character A be the level headed and sensible one all the way through, with no hint of anything bubbling under the surface, and then having them doing something completely nuts right at the very end might be fun for the writer, but the observer will want to brain us. (The operative words above being 'no hint', because it's an entirely different matter if all the ground work is laid - a big finish like that where the audience goes - oh, wow, of course, should have seen that coming, can be the best).
  • Deus ex Machina is usually a really bad idea. Bringing in something or someone completely new to fix everything is likely to really annoy our audience. This is a classical term, so they have their place or they wouldn't have been around so long, but usually this is bandied about as detrimental these days. Of course it can be done, but there better be a really, really good reason for it.
  • An ending can't be too easy - I'm all for the happy ending, in fact I all but insist on it, but if getting to that happy ending is too easy, there is not satisfaction when it arrives. This probably boils down to us making sure our protagonist doesn't waltz to the finish line without taking some serious knocks over the last hurdle (be they physical or mental or abstract).
There are many different ways of writing a story, and many different tropes, setups and approaches, but the above ideas seem to apply in some form to most of them.

Personally, my perfect ending is good for the characters (Boromir dying and Han getting frozen in carbonite had big effects on me as a child, okay, I need happy endings - there is a reason Game of Thrones is so not my thing ;)), leaves some questions hanging, but not the big ones the particular story asked, and has a little bit of a twist as well.

What is your perfect ending like? Does it have to have certain elements?

So I am off to wrestle with the ending for Mina's Children now - wish me luck, and good luck to all those in a similar position. May your story have the ending it deserves.


Here are a set of stories I hope have satisfying endings :)
The Chronicles of Charlie Waterman are now available in Paperback.

Cat's Call

Cat's Creation

Cat's Confidence


  1. "May your story have the ending it deserves." - that sounds like it could as easily be a curse as a blessing. ;P

    I'm with you on endings, I want a payoff, I want (most of) my questions to be answered. It is quite hard to define wny an ending works, it's much easier to define why it doesn't.

    I am not a fan of story arcs overtaking plots, it happens in books and movies, the writer gets distracted by the long haul and forgets that the individual book or movie has to have some resolutions too.

    I'm the kind of person that collects episodes of a serial together before I watch any of them, because I'm all for thrills, but I need resolution in quick time, which is why I hate cliff hangers in books, because there is a lot longer time between 'episodes'. But you're right, it's surprises that don't work which can really spoil things.

    Also, when finishing a book, finish it, there is a skill to summarising where the reader should be in the plot without doing a brain dump, making the reader feel like they have moved through the story, achieved something by reading and, if there is another book, make them look towards it and want to know what happens next. I have read a couple of books that just came to a halt in the middle of the plot, expecting me to buy the next one to carry on - I didn't buy the next one, I was too angry.

    1. Oh yeah - I've read books like that. That doesn't count as a series, that counts as one book divided into more than one to make money as far as I'm concerned. It's why when movies take one book and divide it up I get really annoyed, because usually they just go for a cliff hanger and no resolution for the first film.

  2. I love a good ending, but they are so hard to get right! I hate it when the stakes are really high in a story but then everything's magically alright in the end. I suppose my favourite kind of ending is a bittersweet one - happy in some respects, but not without sacrifice.

    1. I have to admit, I'm totally okay with "And they lived happily ever after", but I do like to know why :). I totally get the bitter sweet ending too though. If the story hasn't changed the characters then somethings usually missing from the plot.


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