I’m pretty sure there’s a reason so many fairy tales end with, they lived happily ever after, and I don’t think it’s because they did live happily ever after.
Good endings are difficult to craft. Sometimes I get so frustrated I’m tempted to bust out a character like the Queen of Hearts who says, “Off with all their heads,” and just be done with it. I’m don’t think that would make a very good ending, though. Maybe if I wrote fairy tale horror it would work, but that’s not my genre.
So what does make a good ending? After talking about this with Heidi and Kati, we agreed there’s not a lot on how to write a good ending. So, I’ve attempted to put together a few things that help me.
1. Make Sure Something Changes
Back To The Future is one of my favorite movies. It has a lot of great scenes, but my favorite part is probably its ending.
For those who haven’t seen it, in Back To The Future, Marty McFly gets stuck in 1955 and all he wants is to get back to 1985. Like any good hero Marty makes it back. But just getting back isn’t enough to make this ending awesome. The best thing about this ending is that when Marty returns, things are different. His family has changed, his dad’s nemesis has changed, even the name of the mall has changed.
For an ending to work it’s not enough for a character to get the thing they’re striving for–especially since this doesn’t always happen– something has to change, whether it’s the main character, their world, or the future. If nothing is different from where the book began what’s the point of reading the story?
2. Figure Out Your Ending First
Earlier this week author Victoria Schwab tweeted, “When drafting a book, one of the first things I write is the last page. Not the last chapter or scene. The last moment. It’s my lighthouse.”
Knowing where you’re going makes it more likely that you’ll get there. Even if you don’t want to figure out what exactly happens in the last scene or page, just roughly determine what kind of ending you want. Do you want a HEA? A tragic ending? A bittersweet one?
Knowing this answer helps set the tone for a story, which is important, because for an ending to work it should be consistent with the rest of the book. Which brings me to number three.
3. Don’t Spring An Unwanted Surprise
Even though it’s now off the air, Chuck is one of my favorite TV shows. It’s a funny, quirky, happy show. So when the last episode had this bittersweet ending, I was massively disappointed. It was like biting into a hamburger and getting a veggie burger.
The somewhat sad ending of Chuck was definitely a surprise, but it wasn’t a good one because it didn’t accurately reflect the bulk of the series, or my expectations. The same thing goes for books. No one wants to read a lighthearted fantasy where everyone dies at the end. And although I love happy endings, when I’m reading a really dark book and suddenly everything works out miraculously, it’s a little disappointing.
So what about you? I’d love to hear what tips or advice you have about endings.