Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Ending, a Bang or a Fizzle?

Death Proof (2007) 

Since I'm working on the ending to my current book, last scenes are on my mind. I thought I'd review my thoughts and see if you have anything to add. Have you ever read a book that kept you turning the pages, only to have it fizzle out on a weak ending? Something that wasn't worthy of the characters' struggle? I have, and I don't want to be guilty of it. It's such a disappointment.
The last scene should be the longest in the story. This is what the reader has been waiting for. Don't cheat him. Make it worth the wait. All the minor characters should have their problems resolved or settled by the last big scene. The protagonist and the antagonist should be the focus of the final confrontation.  This is the fight or confrontation the reader has waded through the rest of the story to reach.
The ending should satisfy the reader, which requires three things:
1.            The conflict is resolved and all the problems solved.
2.           There are no loose ends.
3.           Everyone gets what he deserves.
End the story as soon as the problem is solved. Leave the reader with a good feeling. Don't leave anything hanging unless there will be a sequel, and even then, it should be fairly subtle. Remember Star Wars? Han Solo was dropped into the cryogenic tank or whatever, where he will be frozen forever. We saw him drop, but we never saw him die, leaving the possibility of his return.
The last scene should be the most dramatic in the story. Pull out all the stops. Even though you know in your heart that the good guy will win, there should be doubt. Can he really overcome those odds?
Make the characters who have something at stake participate in the final conflict. Don't let anyone step in for a main character. No police show up to save the heroine from the bad guy (but she could disable or hold him until they arrive J). She must save herself, although she could have help from another primary character. No divine intervention! The heavens cannot open and put out the forest fire with rain when the main characters are surrounded by the blaze. The bad guy cannot have a heart attack that stops him from killing the hero. The abusive husband can’t die from a gas leak so the wife and children are saved.
Obviously the ending has to fit the story--it doesn't have to be a big, dramatic scene but it should still be satisfying.
Now, how can I achieve this from where I am in my story? 


Polly said...

Ah, endings. Always a problem. Sometimes, though, there has to be an extra scene to finish it off. A come-down, if you will. That, too, should be satisfying.

I have no doubt you will come up with an appropriate ending. You always do.

Star said...

Yes, many times I've read disappointing endings, but it is almost inevitable because if the reader has enjoyed the book, then he/she is definitely not going to want it to end. How satisfying an ending is also something which differs from person to person. As in books, so in films perhaps. I know that some of the films made in the past, notably one or two with Cary Grant in them, have been made with two different endings. I heard over here (because I'm English) that that was because Americans don't like ambiguous or sad endings. I can't remember which film it was without doing some research but whichever!? one ending had Cary Grant as the villain, the other ending left us sure that he wasn't!
Same in books. In England (apparently), we are much more prepared to read something with an ending where we have to decide for ourselves what will happen. I like those sort of endings myself.
When I wrote 'Murder in the School', I left the ending a bit up in the air because I knew I was writing a sequel. I don't know if I disappointed the readers or not. What I do know is that I haven't had any complaints (yet).
Very interesting post Ellis.

Star said...

p.s coincidentally, I just read this Blog post, which adds something to the conversation, I think. You and your commentators/readers may also like to read it:

Ellis Vidler said...

Star, I think you're right--ambiguous endings aren't very popular here. I like to have the main problem solved, but there can be something left up in the air for a sequel.
I didn't know about the Cary Grant movies. I'll have to look for the ones with different endings.
I actually have your Murder in the School, but I'm ashamed to say I haven't read it yet. My TBR stack has reached the ceiling and is now multiplying. I WILL get there!

Ellis Vidler said...

Polly, my after-the-climax scenes tend to be short. I don't usually have the same interest in the story once the problem is solved, but I know some things can't be wrapped up ahead of time.

Polly said...

I know Casablanca was filmed with two endings. One with Ingrid Bergman staying with Humphrey Bogart and the other the way it was finally released in the theaters. I don't know of the Cary Grant films, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Ellis Vidler said...

I remember "The Lady or the Tiger" from school. Not my cup of tea. It made me want to scrap the original and write my own ending. Star, was it required reading in the UK?

Casablanca is one of my favorite films. I'm glad they chose the sad ending. It was right for the characters. Of course I sobbed all the way home from the theater.

Marla M said...

Great reminders, Ellis! I'm anxiously awaiting comments from my beta-readers. Hope I satisfied them. Thinking now my finale wasn't long enough!

Ellis Vidler said...

Wow, Marla! You have a new book coming soon? That's terrific. I'm sure it will be a good one and the ending will be fitting. Looking forward to it!

Vicki Lane said...

Good post, Ellis! Endings are so tricky...