Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The End? Now Roll the Credits!

Revising Song of the Day: "Waiting For the End" by Linkin Park
So this month I've been delving into another round of revisions for Wants based off suggestions from my super agent. She provided input for a few minor changes throughout the manuscript; however, our biggest concern is the ending.

Beginning and endings of novels are always tricky. For beginnings, you want to give readers just enough to pull them into the story (click here for my post on a Finger Lickin' Chapter 1--but make sure you're not hungry!). But endings are different--you want to make sure you wrap up the major conflict and show that your protagonist has changed since the beginning. Some people like happily ever afters--where the heroine rides off into the sunset with her love interest on a horse (or a lawn mower if you're a fan of Easy A). Others prefer a little intrigue, where they can make their own conclusions of what the characters may do next (in my head, Breaking Dawn never happened. It was just a feverish dream Bella had after getting food poisoning).

Writers have to understand that not every reader is going to be satisfied with their endings, but I think it's good to take a look at some common ones in many novels. And since I'm currently trying to eat a little better, I won't torture myself with another food analogy. Instead, I'll choose another love: movies.

WARNING: The rest of this post contains spoilers--but I hope you read it anyway. :)

The Never-Ending Story
You know this type of movie. It's where you start packing up your things to leave the theater only to discover (gasp!) that there's still another half hour or so left in the movie! What happened? The main character made amends with his mom/lover/mortal enemy, so what else do we need to know? I heard a few people grumble about how The Social Network could've ended much sooner. After we saw how Mark Zuckerberg "betrayed" his friends and classmates, what else was there to see? We knew they all ended up in court.

Pro: If you choose to go this route, readers may get a chance to see more character development...

Con: ...but then they may start hating your character. To the point where they're bellowing to the sky: "For the love of God! When will this thing end?!" Confession: this is my problem. Hopefully, I didn't make my agent and beta readers pull out too much of their hairs before they reached the last page.

And They Lived Happily Ev...
Fan of the abrupt ending? Well, this is the conclusion for you. This is where you're leaning forward in your seat to see what may happen next...and then the screen goes black. Fans of Inception know what I'm talking about. Dom finally returns from dream purgatory and gets to see his kids. He spins his lucky token--then blackness. Both times I saw this in the theater, the audience let out a collective groan and then laughed.

Pro: The laughter meant most of the audience was impressed. By choosing this ending for your novel, you're not spoon-feeding your readers. You're allowing them to interpret what may or may not have happened. Which leads to interesting debates. Which leads to more people wanting to read what you may have next up your sleeve.

Con: Or you could just really piss them off. If you don't set up enough foreshadowing or clues throughout your novel to indicate what could happen, you might just come off as a little lazy.

Ha! Joke's On You!
Ah, so this is the famous twist-ending--director M. Night Shyamalan is a huge fan. If you've ever seen The Village, you'll know that the audience was led to believe the characters lived in this tiny, well, village...set some time in the past. But as the protagonist ventures through the big, bad, scary woods, we find out that they actually live just outside of an urban city...set in the present day. Ha ha! Funny, right?

Pro: As long as you're free from other twist cliches, you have the potential to do something really groundbreaking here. Just make sure the seeds of a possible twist are present somewhere in your manuscript or...

Con: ...again, you may piss readers off. It's absolutely cool to keep readers guessing, but you don't want to come up with a completely far-fetched ending. If it seems to come out of left field, then readers may wish bad things upon you and your first-born child.

I'm not saying one of these endings are better than the others. Again, you have to decide what feels authentic to your story. So what type of endings do you prefer? Do you have trouble deciding your ending?


Erinn said...

I like endings that make me feel satisfied, like I didn't waste the last how ever many hours of my life reading/watching it. I don't mind a good twist ending or even an ending that leaves a lot open as long as you feel some level of hope for the characters.

BTW-- EPIC ERINN FAIL that it took me this long to follow your blog. UGH! FAIL.

KO: The Insect Collector said...

Great post. Erinn makes a good point: satisfaction is key. I think of Rowling and how FAB she was at balancing the conclusion of the immediate mystery/plot, while still giving you something bigger to sink your teeth into (for the future).
I hate when I feel that's not done well. Sometimes I feel like someone wrote a giant book, and just chopped off the first half for us to consume. They'll give us the 2nd half next year.
Of course, recognizing this, and doing as well as JK are two different things.

Book Nerds said...

It's hard -- you have to strike a good balance between inspiring conversation and letting the reader decide a happy ending for themselves -- and pissing them off. With cliffhanger endings I always instinctively want to know more, but then if I stop and think about it, I'm glad that I can come up with my own happy ending in my head. =)

Racquel Henry said...

I need to see some character growth but I don't mind if the ending is sort of open. However the author should set the reader up for this. There must be enough details along the way. That's for books. For movies, I like a happy ending. Period. Lol.

Cheree said...

I like endings that aren't coincidental, that you can see being built toward and not having something appear just because it is needed. I also don't mind the trick/twist endings, if it keeps me guessing.

I find it difficult finding my own endings, because I really dislike the cheesy overly happy ending and I struggle to find a good place to finish the story.

Alicia Gregoire said...

This is an awesome post. I'm a fan of books ending where they should. There's usually a natural end point, but sometimes we miss it as we're working on our own projects. *guiltily raises hand*

What I don't like is when they end the story the way it should and then decide to tack on an epilogue. I refuse to reread the epilogues in HP or in Dark Tower because of that.

ali said...

This is fantastic Pam. Great job with the different ending choices, I totally agree with them! For me, I think it depends on which story I'm reading/writing as to which ending I prefer. There are definitely some, though, where I think the author missed the boat and did NOT satisfactorily finish the story. I hope I never do that!

A. J. Larrieu said...

Great post, Pam! I agree with Cheree: I'm not a big fan of the "overly happy" ending. Sometimes it's nice if everything isn't perfectly wrapped up. To me, it makes the story feel more real.

PS I've also been guilty of writing a never-ending ending.

Sophia Richardson said...

Of the few short stories I've written there's always been a twist at the end but I don't think those work so well for novels unless it's been really thoroughly laid down first (ala J.K. Rowling). I prefer my endings to resolve some plot questions but leave others open ended so there's a feeling of the character's lives extending past the last pages. In movies, anything goes! Well, maybe not the never-ending story...
- Sophia.