Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The End

Today we're going to talk about endings.

I'm currently writing Book #2 and it was totally inspired by its ending. I have some leeway in how exactly I want the end to turn out, but Herodotus supplied me with a pretty killer finish that was pretty hard to pass up. So I didn't.

According to James Scott Bell, author of Plot and Structure, and ending should do the following:

1. Tie up all loose ends.

There's almost nothing worse than an ending where you're still left wondering what happened to the smoking gun or the body of the chainsmoking transexual. I once read a quote that said roughly, "If there's a smoking gun in a book, it better go off."

2. Give a feeling of resonance.

The best endings have me thinking for a long time after I close the book. Life of Pi, The Time Traveler's Wife, and Jude the Obscure all have endings that I'll never forget. The story should mean something in the larger sense. Maybe you don't know what that is when you first set out to write, but by the time the book hits the shelves there's hopefully something for the reader to take with them.

So, which endings in books have hit home for you? How do endings fit into your writing?


Susan R. Mills said...

Life of Pi was one of my favorites. Seriously, who came up with that. Well I know who, but brilliant, don't you think?

Adam Heine said...

That's funny. I loved Life of Pi, but I can't remember the ending.

The ending of Wild Seed really did it for me. And while the ending to Mistborn wasn't one of those blow-me-away endings, the bit right before (the twist, I guess) did blow me away.

Matthew Delman said...

The quote you refer to is the trope called Chekov's Gun. The playwright Anton Chekov once said that if there's a gun on stage in Act I, then it has to go off by Act III. This can be applied to any out-of-the-ordinary detail that gets mentioned.

Swords over the mantle? They need to be drawn at some point in the story. Strange door down at the end of the hallway? That door had better be opened before the end of the book/short story/whatever. So on and so forth.

I think the interesting thing about endings is that even the ones we see coming can affect us when the story tends, if we love the characters enough. Case in point: in David Eddings's Belgariad cycle, I knew the hero was going to get the girl and win the day. However, the way Eddings went about making that happen was very entertaining, and not nearly the direction I'd expected him to go with the type of story he'd written thus far.

Rick Daley said...

The ending really needs to be a culmination of the entire book. The more it can pull everything together (like The Dude's rug did for his room in THE BIG LEBOWSKI) the more it will be remembered.

My front-burner WIP is a story within a story within a story. Each of the three story lines has a full arc, and the end ties them together directly and thematically. For me, this is where outlining is critical so I can easily review the flow and pacing of the plot to make sure the stories meld together seamlessly.

Terry Odell said...

Not only does the ending have to wrap up the book, it should leave the reader wanting to read the next book. Endings and titles are the two hardest things for me.

Amalia Dillin said...

My endings never work out the first time, so I always second guess them. But I absolutely understand the need for that resonance!

L. T. Host said...

You know how I feel about endings :)

I know everyone is different, but I'm definitely the happy-ever-after ending kind of person, I don't really like dark/poignant ones so much. I couldn't even finish Life of Pi, so I honestly have no idea how it ends. But yes, I agree that an ending must tie up all loose ends. I actually love endings, it's when everything comes together!

Joshua McCune said...

Books that end -- I just read the book Feed by MT Anderson -- great opening, but can't remember the ending to save my life... and no existential stuff like No Country for Old Men.

Rick, I'm eagerly awaiting your SWaSWaS...

Great ending books for me: Ender's Game (just too cool), Duncton Wood (completely satisfying... closest thing to a spiritual book for me... and I love moles), Animal Farm (overt allegory, sure, but so true), The Game of Thrones (kind of like The Empire Strikes Back)

Unknown said...

For me the ending is what can make me impressed or disappointed by an author. They might have kept me entertained so far but if they let me down at the end I'm not going to forgive them in a hurry. On the other hand if the rest of the book is just ok and the ending pulls everything together I'm going to be impressed. "Across the Nightingale Floor" comes to mind.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Susan- It was totally brilliant, especially that ending. I still wonder about it.

Adam- I don't remember all of Life of Pi, but I definitely remember the ending!

Matt- Thank you! I looked on Google for the quote, but I'm sick and didn't have the energy to really search. I'll remember that for next time.

Rick- I agree. I hate it when you close a book and say, "That's it?"

Terry- An ending can make or break a book. If I don't like an author's ending I'm not going to pick the next one up.

Amalia- I second guessed the ending for Hatshepsut a lot. We'll see with this next one- I think it's pretty set.

L.T.- I just read a kind of happily ever after and was actually a little disappointed. Weird, eh?

Bane- I wonder if beginnings or endings tend to be remembered the most. I'd say endings.

Taryn- I totally agree. There have been several books whose endings have made me mad. I didn't read any more by those authors.

Laura S. said...

This is the third time I've heard about Life of Pi. I better get it out of the library now so I know what everyone is talking about!

The Time Traveler's Wife, Gone with the Wind, and The Thorn Birds have endings I'll never forget.

I'm constantly reworking endings in my own work (and the beginning, middle..ha!). It's a lot of pressure to write a poignant, resonant ending!