"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ending on a High Note

After surviving numerous conflicts, and obtaining something new, it’s time for your protagonist to say goodbye. I’ve read too many books (and seen too many movies) with abrupt endings that left me aggravated and lacking gratification for spending my time with the characters. There should be some emotional reward for the time spent with the story. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect a happy ending every time, but there are ways to give your reader a satisfying farewell to your tale.

1. Happily Ever After – I am fond of the happy ending. The best way to give a reader this is by showing a new beginning. Romance novelists usually do this with a wedding or the arrival of the couple’s first baby. The key is the new relationship. The formation of a new friendship or alliance is another way to provide this end. One of my personal favorites was Humphrey Bogart in the end of Casablanca… “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

2. Open-Ended Conclusion – This is often used in sequels. Even if you are planning a sequel to your book or movie there should be a sense of closure. Most loose ends are tied up in the last chapter (scene) or two. If you leave just one or two dangling, you’ll have people talking about your book (or movie) long after the ending. The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy offers a great example of this style. Each movie ends by tying up the tale, but offering a glimpse of the unfinished business that will drive the next film.  The Twilight series employs this method as well.

3. Surprise Ending - Crime stories seem to gravitate to this style. Popular movies such as Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects are great examples. (I won’t spoil the ending in case you have not seen them.) O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” is a positive example of the twist ending in a short story.
No matter what style ending you choose to give your readers, be sure not to leave a lot of unanswered questions. Remember this is your last chance to affect the audience emotionally. It must satisfy or provoke your audience as you intended.

17 comments:

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

The most awful thing for me as a reader is to have to put up with a poor ending. I usually come up with endings for my books first. I think it's one of the most important parts of a book to get right. A good ending should leave you satisfied, awestruck, drained, and hungry for more, while still being happy that you've seen all there is to know of the story for now.

Bish Denham said...

I tend to prefer and happy or hopeful ending as well.

Name: Luana Krause said...

Great post, Sylvia. Endings are so important. A great story can be ruined with a poorly thought-out ending. One of my faves is "The Shawshank Redemption" (movie) ... Red's last line is "I hope." That sums up what the whole movie is about: hope.

Paula Martin said...

I'm a sucker for happy-ever-after endings, but I don't like them to be too long and drawn-out. I've read romannce novels where hero and heroine are reconciled after overcoming the obstacles that kept them apart, but then the story goes on for a couple more chapters until it finally fizzles out. So I totally agree that 'ending on a high note' is so important.
http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com

Candyland said...

I love the surprise ending! I want to be jolted! I'm not a fan of happy endings, for the most part. Too predictable.

Nofretiri said...

You aren't an a-ha Fan, are you? Ending on a High Note is also the title of their latest album! *g*

Back to you: Thanks for the great post! :-)

Today I asked myself about E for Einzigartigkeit (uniqueness) What makes one particular book (my book) stand out in the masses?

Wish you all a wonderful unique day!

Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

Monti said...

Excellent post! I love happy endings. I also like sequels and am working on one now--a sequel for my novel, Secrets by the Sea. I hadn't planned on it but realized I had left one thing unresolved when everything else was tied up.

Thanks for explaining good endings so well. Also thanks for stopping by my blog today!

Monti
NotesAlongTheWay

Niki said...

I get so upset if a book or movie doesn't end happily. And robbed if they leave you hanging.

shelly said...

What a great piece on endings. Thanks for giving us examples of different ones. Now following.

Meika said...

I am and always have been a sucker for a happy ending. Maybe it's why I write romance. I get upset if something ends on a sad note.

Thanks for stopping by my blog :)

Trisha said...

The novel I'm currently revising can't really have a surprise ending, because it's a romance ;) But I still love the ending :P hey, at least someone does! LOL.

madisonwoods said...

I think most people like a happy ending, but my book isn't leaning that way, so I'm trying to make it hopeful at least. The ending is the hardest part to me.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

That's very helpful, user-friendly advice. Thanks so much for stopping by and following, so that I could discover your blog and reciprocate. I look forward to many more trips to your Wonderland.
Robyn

Kate Larkindale said...

I hate an inconclusive ending, but I do like one that leaves a few things to the imagination. It's nice to kind of fade out and know that for these characters life will go on, changed perhaps by the events of the book.

Lindsay N. Currie said...

Great post! I agree with you - the ending is critical! On my most recent WIP, my co-author and I had the goal of ending with just enough closure to satisfy the reader, but enough open material for a potential sequel. Tricky, but fun!

Susan Kane said...

I just went through all your A-Z postings, and felt I learned and re-learned much. I will be following you!

Lisa said...

Excellent advice. I find nothing more frustrating when I am reading then to have a book end disappointingly.

Lisa