Good morning, squiders. Last week we discussed starting in the wrong place. But one can end a story in the wrong place as well.
(To be fair, there are a lot of issues that have to do with what scenes are chosen to be included in a story. However, whole books about structure have been written if this is an issue you would like to explore further. My personal favorite is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.)
Ending in the wrong place typically falls into two categories:
- Going too long
- Going too short
You can probably see what I mean by either of these, but for the sake of completion, let’s use examples. The Return of the King movie is commonly brought up as a story that goes on too long. Part of this is because there are so many characters in so many places and they all need resolutions.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where Arthur and his remaining knights are just about the reach the Grail–and then the police show up and the film is shut off. Yes, it’s purposeful, and yes, it falls in line with the Pythons’ humor, but the story cuts off abruptly and can be unsatisfying.
(NOTE: TVTropes has a whole page of different unsatisfying ending types. You can find it here.)
Endings, like beginnings, are highly subjective, and invariably, you can’t please everyone. If you conclude quickly after your climax, you’ll have people who wanted more. Did the sister end up with the lawyer? What happened to the corrupt mayor? Did magic return to the land? But if you make sure you wrap everything up, people will groan about the story being never ending. So, to some extent, the ending that feels right to you is probably best.
On a related note, there are unsatisfying endings. These typically occur for one of the following reasons:
- The story seems to be foreshadowing something that doesn’t happen
- There’s too many loose ends
- A deus ex machina comes in last minute, robbing the main character of their agency
- The ending doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the story
- The ending doesn’t fit with the main character’s personality
- The ending dumbs everything down too far
This is not to say that unexpected things can’t happen in your ending. They certainly can. I think we all appreciate a truly great twist, one that we didn’t see coming and yet falls in line perfectly with what’s come before. In fact, you need to have some surprises in your ending or you run the risk of your readers being disappointed by things being too predictable. They may know a battle is coming, and who the main people in that battle will be, but they hopefully won’t know how it’s going to play out.
And, lastly, let’s talk about epilogues. An epilogue is usually (hopefully) a single chapter at the end of a book that shows the main character’s life after the climax. Usually some time has passed (years, in some cases) and they’re used to show how the effects of the story have changed (or not changed) the character.
Epilogues can be fantastic or be mistakes, depending on the story and how they’re handled. Look at how much controversy has surrounded the epilogue from the Harry Potter series. But they can be useful, especially if the climax doesn’t allow for an easy transition into a resolution chapter (such as when something traumatic has happened, or the main character has died, or if it’s important to the emotional arc of the story to show the impact of the characters’ sacrifice, etc.). I sometimes write stories with and without epilogues to see which works better.
Thoughts on endings, squiders? Ideas on how to tell where’s the best place to stop?