Endings

I’ve been thinking about endings lately.

It makes sense. I recently turned in the final draft of Incarnate 3, several of the PubCrawl girls are working on their series-enders, and a few series I love are coming to a close.

All this has made me remember one of my favorite quotes about endings.

Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can. The fans are always gonna bitch. There’s always gonna be holes. And since it’s the ending, it’s all supposed to add up to something. I’m telling you, they’re a raging pain in the ass.

—The Prophet Chuck, Supernatural

I mean, when I was double-checking this quote, I got a “you know you’re in safe-search mode, right?” reminder from duckduckgo, but Chuck isn’t wrong: endings are hard.

Still, there are some ways to make sure you’re on the right path toward a solid, satisfying ending—whether it’s the end of a standalone book, a trilogy, or a monster series.

1. Plot resolution: What are your biggest plot lines? What major conflicts did you bring up in the beginning of the book? Resolve those. If the end of the world starts on page 5, then the world better be saved (or ended) on the last page. And if there’s an evil government after the main character in chapter two, by the last chapter, s/he should be free (or captured) in the last chapter.

Romances, major questions about the worldbuilding, and supporting plot lines all need to be tied up in a way that resolves the situation for the reader. It can be happy, sad, bittersweet—whatever, so long as there is closure.

2. Loose ends: You’re not going to be able to tie up all the loose ends—and some would argue that you shouldn’t. But do try to grab the ones that might make readers go “But I thought…” or “But what about…”

This is where critique partners and editors really come in handy. I mean, in addition to all the other places they really come in handy. Just because you know how all the details worked doesn’t mean those explanations made it to paper. So give your manuscript to a few smart people, figure out which loose ends are the most important, and focus on resolving those.

3. The meaning of life: This one is probably the most difficult. Because the Prophet Chuck is right (again): it all has to add up to something. Love, family, sacrifice, hope, choice, freedom, destiny, self-discovery—it’s up to you. But this, I think, is one of the places story resonance happens. This meaning, this foundation of truth is one of the things that will keep readers thinking about the story long after it’s over.

You’ll never be able to satisfy every reader with your ending, but you’re not writing for every reader. You’re writing for you. For the story. Close the story in a way that satisfies you.

No doubt—endings are hard. But then again, nothing ever really ends, does it?

—The Prophet Chuck, Supernatural

Without spoiling anything about the story, what are some of your favorite endings? What endings are you especially looking forward to?

     

29 Responses to Endings

  1. Brooke Mar 5 2013 at 7:16 am #

    Plot resolution is big for me. I just read a book, very popular and people have been waiting for it, and I was totally disappointed with the ending b/c the plot wasn’t really resolved. Things were just kind of left hanging, there was no wrap up. I need wrap up. Unless the author is going to continue the series, I want a resolution. I felt this way with Mockingjay, like it was rushed and then “boom” here you go, this is the ending. BLAH!

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      Yeah, plot resolution is important to me, too. Sorry to hear you were disappointed by something recently! That stinks.

  2. Renee Suzanne Mar 5 2013 at 8:21 am #

    Love that you quoted Chuck from Supernatural, since he’s one of my favorite fictional writers [his quote about how writing is hard? Spot-on.] I think my biggest thing about the ending is that it has to feel like an “ending” and not just another cliffhanger. I think too many authors nowadays just leave things hanging, and while that might be realistic in a sense, in a series that a reader puts time and effort into reading I think there needs to be some pay-off and some sense that they are at the end of a journey themselves, and not just dropped on their heads. This post is so, so timely though, as I’m writing the last book in my own trilogy and the thought of writing a proper ENDING is with me perpetually. 😀

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:03 pm #

      Right?? Those Chuck quotes are some of my favorite!

  3. Megan Duff Mar 5 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Hhmmmmm *taps chin* MELINA MARCHETTA

    Okay, okay, but really she is my answer to every question about books/writing. Her closer to The Lumatere Chronicles was EVERYTHING. Like I cuddled Quintana of Charyn for weeks after I finished reading.

    An unconventional ending that I love is Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy. It was the biggest cliffhanger ever but it worked. I’m not even that mad about it anymore. Wait…yep, I’m tearing up. Curse you Ness!

    Last, and maybe this is because stuff about the movie is everywhere, but The Host by Stephanie Meyer has a great ending. It had such nice closure, but added some new intrigue for Book 2. Oh, right that book we were promised but never got *grumble grumble grumble*

    At the end of the day I hate when endings fall flat, like when a book is all ACTION ACTION ACTION and then boring last 20 pages. Yuck. I feel like there should be a mini climax at the end of every book.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:05 pm #

      I’ve read only the first book in that series, but the writing and worldbuilding is spectacular!! I have Jellico Road on my iPad waaaaaiting now. 😀

      I haven’t finished the Chaos Walking series, either, but I know I need to. I loved the first book!

  4. Jes Mar 5 2013 at 10:45 am #

    My genre is YA, and right now my biggest pet peeve with endings is that the trend seems to be dragging them out a la Return of the King. How many books have that flash-forward after the action is done to see our heroine/hero come full circle with their kids? Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series are big-name examples, but there are many others.

    Maybe I’m just being a bit nostalgic for the YA fantasy lit I read back in the day (and still periodically pull off the shelf), but I’ve always preferred the story to end. We (either as the readers or the inevitable fan fiction writers) are free to imagine what happens next, but the story is wrapped up when the climax is resolved. The girl gets the guy (or visa versa), the evil is vanquished, the traitor repents or dies, etc and the future is bright and hopeful as everyone is ready to rebuild. The MC having flashbacks and PTSD, however realistic that is, is another story. The MC coming utterly full circle to the parents we never met to send their children off into the world is another story.

    Compare those examples with authors like Mercedes Lackey or Tamora Pierce, who each wrote succinct 2, 3, or 4 book series inside a continuing world. That followup that drags the ending out too long is literally relegated to another story. Pierce’s original MC has her quartet, but her daughter (not yet born in said quartet) has a duo years later (never mind all of the in-world books in between that give glimpses as to how she’s faring as an adult). One of Lackey’s worlds contains a Cataclysm at the beginning that (literally) echos back to affect books several centuries (and 25 books) later. During all of that, her original MC has a triad that includes some of the most explicit trauma I’ve read within the genre. Despite surviving a list of horrors that include torture, sexual assault, and childhood trauma, the character proves herself, helps save the kingdom, and gets her man. Yes, in later, separate series, we see that she has emotional scars, but we also see her healing; it’s a different story than the one that got her there.

    I don’t know – I may be the only one who feels this way. Do you all prefer books that end the story/plot or ones that utterly resolve the character?

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:23 pm #

      Ahh, you are mentioning some of the books of my childhood that definitely shaped the way I see stories and endings!

      I like to think that characters go on after the plot ends. I don’t want utter resolution for them — that wouldn’t happen realistically. There are always going to be troubles (though not necessarily the troubles from the series — I like those to be resolved!) and characters should always be growing. *shrug*

  5. Alexa Y. Mar 5 2013 at 10:47 am #

    I really liked this post! I always struggle with endings when writing my stories, because I always try to resolve everything and it usually ends up being a bit of a mess and info dump. I’m working on it though, and I like that you made this post where there are basically “guides” to what really should be part of the ending 🙂

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      I’m glad this was helpful! I have to think about these things a lot when I’m coming at the end of a story. They really are HARD to write!

  6. Erin Bowman
    Erin Bowman Mar 5 2013 at 11:09 am #

    JODI! Those Chuck quotes from SUPERNATURAL struck a chord the first time I watched that episode. (I’m pretty sure I’ll be re-quoting them some day soon when I finish my book three draft.)

    Chuck is so darn right, especially that nothing really ends. In fact, I think having a few loose ends (so long as they aren’t major ones like you pointed out) is exactly what allows a story to live on forever. That’s the beauty of loose ends. Without a few unknowns, we couldn’t imagine where the characters go next or how their journey continues. Sigh. Man, I love books. And thank you for this post. I FEEL YOU. <3

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:25 pm #

      Yes! When I first heard those quotes, I was all, YES, YES, IT’S LIKE THAT.

  7. Marc Vun Kannon Mar 5 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    I’ve always been a big proponent of the idea that a story has a finite lifespan. Dragging it on after it really finished is just pain for all involved. One of my favorite SF series was the Well of Souls books by Jack Chalker, which came to a very nice resolution in the end, even though the story technically continued. It was a gem of a series, so much so that when he wrote more books in that universe later on I refused to read them. Asimov and Dave Duncan did the same, but their stories had embedded logical flaws that called for a continuation.
    One of the benefits to the epilog where the life of the characters is sketched out is that it makes it difficult or impossible to revisit that world and ruin a story that ended well in the first place. A better alternative is what Lois McMaster Bujold did in her Chalion books. The first ended happily, so the second took a different member of the ensemble cast and continued.
    Much more painful to me is the incomplete ending, which probably has a lot to do with leaving openings for a further continuation of a series if it turns out TPTB can turn a profit from it. One of my favorite TV shows ended that way, which is how I got into fanfic writing, to finish the logic. As for my own, I often have an ‘ending’ that the story is aimed towards, but by the time I get there it doesn’t mean what I thought it meant.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      Ooo, I loved the first Chalion book. I haven’t read the others yet, but that first one was really amazing!

      I’m not huge on incomplete endings, too. I don’t need to see everything rounded up and resolved, but I do want some< ?i> resolution! Otherwise, what’s the point?

  8. Andrea Mar 5 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    I think you’ve captured everything that leads to a satisfying ending – you could even use those three things to evaluate an ending. For example, I loved the ending to Harry Potter. Plot resolution? Check. Meaning of life? Check. Loose ends? Kind of. I do wish there was more about what the characters had done with their lives (what their jobs were) but okay, it was a sweet epilogue.

    I didn’t like the end of MockingJay at first, but then it grew on me, and now I love it. It definitely passed the three requirements.

    I am really excited for the ending to Throne of Glass, though it’s a ways away (which is a good thing, endings come too soon!). Especially to see how much it will differ from the FP version.

    I’m also looking forward to the ending of Crewel – It’s such an amazing world and there’s this interesting twist about two worlds so I can’t wait to see what the final resolution is – what the author’s meaning of life is.

    Oh, and even though Game of Thrones continuously shocks me (mostly in a bad way) and almost all of the characters I cared about have been killed off, I can’t stop reading it, and I can’t wait for an ending to that series. I need closure haha.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      I wasn’t sure how to feel about the Mockingjay epilogue at first. I actually LOVED the last chapter as the end, but the epilogue wasn’t bad.

      Those sound like great books! I haven’t made it to either series yet, though I own both of them. I’m so excited to read them!

  9. Hannah Mar 5 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    I think endings are especially hard to write because they are what is freshest in the mind of the reader as they move on. I don’t want my endings to be too “happily ever after”, but simultaneously I have no desire a Hamlet-esque ending with everyone dead. Perhaps those are too extremes, but striking the balance between them is so difficult!

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:39 pm #

      You’re right! The endings are what linger because they’re the last thing the reader experiences. A great ending can make or break a book/series!

  10. Diana Mar 5 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    I think that’s what bugged me about 1984. There was resolution, but there was no CLOSURE. It left us sitting there, waiting for something to happen, tempted to give poor Winston a roundhouse kick. But my grudge against Orwell aside…

    Let’s see. One of my favorite endings ever–thought it’s not a book (gasp!)–was the ending to the TV series “Leverage.” Boo. Yah. Book-wise, I loved the ending to the Blood of Kings series by Jill Williamson (Christian high fantasy). It was fairly drawn out, but it was satisfying. The ending to Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker (historical fiction) was just so endlessly perfect I was sobbing. I can’t think of anything else right off the top of my head.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:40 pm #

      Oh my gosh, I haven’t read any of those!! I’ll have to check them out!

  11. Kim Trotter Mar 5 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    This is a really fabulous post. I’ve been thinking about endings a lot lately, and this has helped me a lot so thank you! I recently read PAPER VALENTINE and THE REPLACEMENT by Brenna Yovanoff and I liked the way both of those books ended. There was closure and most of the loose ends were tied up. We knew the meaning behind the story and saw how the characters had grown into who they were meant to be. I loved that. It was sad to see them go, I would love to read a series by Yovanoff.

    I tell myself I like bittersweet and even straight up sad endings, but I don’t see them done well often. The type of ending that bugs me beyond belief are cliffhangers. Not the type that ended CATCHING FIRE by Collins, where we knew something bad had just happened and weren’t sure all the minor characters were all right (because we knew Katniss was) but the type that ended ASHES by Isla Bick. That just … it was cruel, too cruel, to leave your MC in limbo like that. Or how she ended DRAW IN THE DARK — that equally bothered me. One of my favorite books is THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers and that has an open ending ending, too, but it gives enough closure that (while I’d die to have it turn into a series so I can continue to read about those characters and that world) I was satisfied with spending all that time reading the book.

    In the end, I think that’s what’s most important. Making sure that after everything, all the time and effort and things reader’s gave up to read the book, they are satisfied and don’t regret doing it.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:42 pm #

      Oh good! Glad it was useful!

      I haven’t read Brenna’s books yet, but I have a couple of them — I hear they’re fantastic!

      In the end, I think that’s what’s most important. Making sure that after everything, all the time and effort and things reader’s gave up to read the book, they are satisfied and don’t regret doing it.”

      Yes, this exactly.

  12. Alexa O Mar 6 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    I think I remember the first time closing a book and thinking “Wow, that was the perfect ending” was Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. It was very open-ended, and rather melancholic, but it was exactly what was appropriate for the characters. His Dark Materials was another great one – I was heartbroken, but it ended just the way it needed to.

    I think I agree with Jes that what makes a great ending is not just what’s included (resolution, meaning, etc.) but also what the author chooses to leave out. It’s a very fine balance.

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 6 2013 at 4:43 pm #

      Ooo, I haven’t read either of those, but I’ll keep my eye out. I know I have His Dark Materials somewhere.

  13. Creative A Mar 7 2013 at 12:19 am #

    Oh man. Yeah. These are hard. The thing I always struggle with, is that usually by the time I have gotten to the ending, the story has built up so much more than I expected that the climax as I originally imagined it no longer works. It’s too…anticlimactic. So I always struggle to fit those pieces back together.

    But one thing I love are endings that linger. I feel like a lot of books wrap things up and then just stop. I want a moment to sit and enjoy how things turned out, so I always love it when the authors spend another chapter or scene just letting us marinate in the moment, so to speak.

    I’m going to totally contradict myself, though, and say how much I LOVED the ending of Daughter of Smoke & Bone. There is so much left to explore and I was so geared for the next book. There was something else I read recently that had a fantastic, daydreamy ending, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was! Gah. Maybe next time.

    Great post. And congrats on finishing book 3, Jodi! *Pom poms*

    -Mandy

    • jodimeadows
      jodimeadows Mar 7 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      Yes! That can definitely be tricky. Stories evolve so much as you’re writing them. Even if you know the end, how you get there can still change — what it means can still change.

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