This month’s topic is The perfect ending. So you’ve written a story, and now you just need to tie it off neatly – what makes an ending perfect for you?
Well, topical much.
Of late – strike that, of basically since I learned how to write properly – I’ve been working almost exclusively in a universe that has very specific expectations around The End. People can die. People do die. There is grief, and heartache, and so, so much that can never really be all right. But at the end, at the very end, there has to be hope. There has to be proof that someday, somewhere, everything can be all right, even if it doesn’t look it just now.
And you can’t get that hope just by shutting down the story, saying ‘okay, that’s the end now’. You have to plan, thousands of words in advance, where you want to end, or you’re just not going to get there. You have to go back and hunt, or take careful notes as you go along, find every single little thing that’s gone wrong in the whole story, and make sure it’s tied off. Komari Vosa? I don’t have to know where she is, but because Xanatos cares about her, I have to make sure she’s all right there. Fourth-row-far-left (oh my gosh…) I have to know he’s out of the way. Otherwise the ends aren’t tied off and it unravels.
I’ll tell you a secret.
The first thing I wrote of War Stories, after I knew it was going to happen at all, was the very last sentence. It goes like this:
It is going to be a beautiful day.
And I’ll show you that, and the bit that goes with it, as soon as I get the read-over and the cover done.
When I’m reading a book, I like tidy endings too. Detective novels appeal to me, because it’s not in their nature to end with ambiguities still floating around. The Father Brown mysteries sometimes have a few possible endings, but they all definitely end. The ending of The Help, on the other hand, is quite unsatisfying to me: Abilene is fired and going off to… not find another job? And I’m left there going what the HECK, what the ACTUAL HECK was that? Sure, it’s the real world, and the real world sucks sometimes, and yes, you have to say that, but even in real life things end, things close, stuff doesn’t just lie around open-ended like that, so that isn’t where I, personally, would put the end. I’d back up a few chapters to where we know it’s going to be okay because Hilly is going to hide what’s going on for her own nefarious ends.
I was going over my bookcase, and I found out that most of my books do quite definitely end. Of the books I’ve read in the last year, only two a) didn’t end and b) I still loved them. I can’t recommend either, unfortunately, because they’re good books, but not good books, if you catch my drift.
One ends with the main character swindling his mates and going off on a boat to Europe to start over. And I go really? Really? I hoped you were better than this. But he’s not, and that’s the point of the ending: people don’t always change. They can develop, go through life and try to be better… and fail. So it was a good ending in that way, because… life goes on. Hopeless, totally hopeless, but a mechanically good ending.
The other book, a less not-good book, ends with the person I think of as the main character (I’m fairly sure he’s not) topping his girlfriend and then topping himself. There were extenuating circumstances, but I was not best pleased. Particularly as a gunshot to the head struck me as a rather good way of cutting off a POV narrative ‘unfinished’, yet the book trickled on for another chapter and a half. Also the trickle contained unnecessary descriptions of tentacles.
And cliffies! Sometimes books do end with cliffies. I’m thinking at the moment of Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor, because when it was written it so did. When I’m reading it, I read the bit about the plane flying into the Pentagon (oh, Force, sorry, just realized what day it is up there in the States) and go gah, and jump immediately into the next book where the story continues without a shadow of a hitch. Because I love writing cliffies, and I love reading them if I can choose when to continue reading. I stop abruptly in the middle of chapters sometimes to make a synthetic cliffie and give myself something to think about in bed. But that only works for me because I know I could just pick up the book again and read on.
So… I like endings that end. I really like endings that end ‘in the spirit of Star Wars’ though that’s by no means the only genre that does it; other genres often end happy or at least hopeful. And, according to the maxim of Oscar Wilde, I write what I like.
How do you finish things? Leave it up to the reader to decide, end with a bang, or on a cliffie? Which do you most like to read? And why?
Next month’s topic will be When it all goes wrong: being a writer when you can’t write. This can be as simple as left-my-notebook-behind-on-vacation, or as complicated as life-is-chizzk-and-my-writing-all-promptly-died. Feel free to talk about what causes it all to go wrong, what you do about it, and how it affects the projects and your sanity.
Thanks for reading.