In which I ramble about the different types of endings a story can have, and my thoughts on them. I have expressed some of these thoughts previously, I realise that. But they fit here too.
I guess the most obvious thing to bring up is happy vs not-so-happy vs downright depressing endings. I am the sort to like happy, or at least happyish endings. My thinking is that books are a form of entertainment, and I like my entertainment to leave me in a good mood. But different people like different things, and I can appreciate a well written downbeat ending.
I think what’s really important is that the ending feels like something that has actually been worked towards. Much as I prefer happy endings, if I’m reading a book and it’s just dark and depressing right up until the last page and then suddenly it’s all happy, then that’s a bit rubbish. And on the flipside, things shouldn’t just go depressing at the end for the sake of being edgy. Yes, I know in real life stuff happens out of nowhere, fortunes can change very suddenly, but fiction isn’t real life. Narratives generally – I say generally because I rarely like to dismiss something entirely out of hand – require some sort of conclusion, and for it to be a satisfying one, it has to feel worked towards. Just because something can happen in reality, doesn’t mean it can work in a story. I feel this applies especially when it comes right at the end and you don’t have to deal so much with the fallout. That’s the difference; a story has a conclusion, reality just keeps on going.
When it comes to completely depressing endings, I admit I don’t like them at all, even if it’s the logical conclusion. I like there to be some hope at the end. But that’s personal preference; as I said, I read to be entertained. I don’t want to be completely miserable afterwards. But that means I just wouldn’t want to read or write a completely depressing story at all, not that I think a happy ending should be tacked on.
I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago that if something happens right at the end of a story – and by that I mean one which isn’t at the beginning or middle of a series – then you don’t have to deal with the long term consequences in story, or even the short term ones sometimes. Which is fair enough with some things.
But then there’s things like killing off characters. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like it when a main or major character gets killed off right at the end. There are some times I can be OK with it, for instance if it’s the logical conclusion of the story, or if other characters of similar importance have been killed before. But if it just feels thrown in there for the sake of it, because the writer wanted a shocking or emotional ending, I don’t like that. It is shocking and it should be emotional when a major character dies, but when a writer’s only willing to do it right at the end, when they don’t have to fully deal with the survivors’ grief, then it can feel kind of cheap. I think it’s OK to kill characters just for the shock factor, but the consequences should still be properly dealt with.
So yes, I’m wary of ending with a death, although there are circumstances where it can work.
A very popular ending is having two characters get together romantically. There’s nothing wrong with that; I’ve said before I’m not the biggest fan of romance, but I can enjoy it, I do attempt it sometimes, and this is an ending I’m planning for a story I’m working on. But it is one of those things where sometimes it can feel like it was done for the sake of it. Obviously, if it’s a romance story, or one with a romantic subplot, then that’s logical. Even if it’s two characters who’ve just generally come across like they’re into eachother, I’m fine with that.
Sometimes though, it feels like the writer just felt like someone needed to fall in love – or, sometimes, that everyone had to fall in love. Even in a straight romance, not everyone needs to end up with someone. Romance is not necessary for a happy ending, and frankly I find it a bit silly when every character finds love.
Oh, but when the only character who doesn’t is the one the writer doesn’t seem to like very much that just feels mean spirited. It shouldn’t feel like a character’s been denied a romance as some kind of punishment – unless they’re a villain who’s specifically being pursuing a romance, then it would be just not letting them get what they want. But the reason for not having everyone fall in love is because they don’t need to to have a happy ending, not because some of them don’t ‘deserve’ it.
Epilogues aren’t just final chapters, and not every story needs one. There should be something which sets them apart from the rest of the story, and they should serve some special purpose. It shouldn’t just be a case of the last chapter having the word ‘epilogue’ slapped onto it. If the story doesn’t need an epilogue, then it doesn’t need an epilogue.
Some epilogues give a quick rundown of what happened to the characters afterwards, wrapping up any loose ends. Whether or not this is necessary is, I would say, dependent on how many characters and plotlines you have, and how big your story is. It can feel gratuitous, the reader doesn’t always have to know what’s going to happen to the characters. I don’t personally like it when a character’s whole future life is mapped out, even if it’s appropriate. When I’m reading, I want a satisfying conclusion to the story, but I still like to be able to imagine what happened next for myself. I actually find it a little annoying if every detail is accounted for. But if it is appropriate for the story, then a writer might choose to use this, and I’m sure there’s plenty of people who have the exact opposite opinion to me.
And there’s the kind where you skip ahead a few months or years. I’d say this one should be used very carefully. I can’t say it’s a bad idea because I’m planning to use it in one of my stories. In my case it’s because I want my two main characters to get together as a couple at the end, but I don’t think either of them are really in a place where they can settle into a relationship yet by the time the story’s done. So I want to give them both a bit of time to themselves before putting them together, otherwise it will be one of those things where you finish a book and think ‘yeah, they broke up two weeks later’. So I think the point I’m trying to make with mentioning that is there should be some reason for doing this kind of epilogue. Just like with most things, actually; that wasn’t the most intelligent observation. But it should add something to the story that couldn’t be added without the time skip, that’s what I’m trying to say.
I wouldn’t want to skip too far ahead. Not unless it was a story on a level where it would logically take a good while for the events to really settle down, like if it was a story about overthrowing a government or something big like that. I don’t write things on that level so I have no need of epilogues too far ahead. In the story I mentioned in the last paragraph, I’ll skip ahead to make the romantic relationship more convincing, but I think showing them happily married years down the line would be a little much. But that’s a relationship between two people, it’s not a large scale event.
And sometimes epilogues just wind up a plot thread that got left behind somewhere, which would be jarring to bring back in the main narrative, but could still do with being resolved. I realise that wording makes it sound like an afterthought, but it shouldn’t be. I think sometimes this is legitimately the best way to structure a story, but that should be why it’s used. Not because you got to the end and realised you forgot to resolve something. That’s what editing is for.
I think I’ve rambled enough in this post. Honestly, I just want to get it posted, I haven’t done a post about writing for ages. Out of the types of posts I do here, I definitely find these the hardest. Maybe I’ll do another post about this in the future, if I think of enough other things to talk about. Thank you for reading.