The Oxford Dictionary tells us that the word ‘end’ means limit, furthest point or part. Once the reader has reached the furthest part of a story, therefore, they will read the end of the book. It has a concrete purpose. Sometimes, however, this all-important part of a story is left out or not handled well. Endings can be tricky.
As readers, we remember the great final chapters and never forget the bad ones.
There was one book I read as an eight-year-old, which came to a premature stop. An aboriginal girl sat by the fire, having learned her entire tribe had been wiped out. She raised her arms up to the sky, tears streaming down her cheeks. This was followed by the words, “The end.”
Left with too many unanswered questions about the girl with her arms raised in despair, my child heart was reduced to confetti.
At this point in my childhood, I had been in the happy habit of going to the library every week, and I lived with my head in a book. After reading the premature ending in this book however, I distanced myself from reading. It took me six months before I would venture to a library. One day, I picked up my first Laura Ingalls Wilder book, ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ and I fell in love with reading all over again.
Books are so important to our young readers.
Award-winning author, Kate de Goldi, said of her childhood, ‘Reading was my telescope on the emerging world around me.’
For our young readers especially, after a great story we owe them a good ending. As a writer, I feel I make a promise from the first word I commit to the first page, that I will deliver the reader to the resolution of the story.
Kate de Goldi urged us, ‘Complete what you’ve started. It has to pay off. We have to witness the resolution of the question posed.’
If all stories are about the battle between protagonist and antagonist, physics demands not just beginning and middle, but also end, which is why storytelling feels wrong if it’s either omitted or underplayed. ~ Producer, editor and writer, John Yorke, Into the Woods. As readers, we crave that final ‘feeling of resonance,’ when we finish a story.
The “feeling of resonance” is what Kiwi author, Joy Cowley, would call, ‘a satisfying ending.’ I agree. However, knowing where to curtail our stories in order to hit that resounding note takes skill.
Here are three tips on how to write a good ending.
*Tip One: Joy Cowley said, ‘Don’t finish immediately after resolution, but don’t have lengthy explanations in the climactic scene. Find “the true ending” because we often begin before the beginning and end after the ending.’
*Tip Two: John Yorke, said, at the conclusion we make sure that ‘the knots of plot are undone and complications unravelled.’
Another New Zealand novelist, Lorraine Ormann put it this way, ‘A story starts out low to the ground, rises with each event, the initial climb is gradual, to the eventual climax, then there is a precipitous drop to the end.’
*Tip Three: In 1863, the German novelist, Gustav Freytag, gave a formula for the underlying shape of drama. A five step process: exposition, complications, climax, falling action, and catastrophe.
In the fifth stage of catastrophe, ‘the conflict is resolved, whether through disaster and downfall of the hero or through his victory and transfiguration.’
At this stage, according to John Yorke, ‘the (protagonists) are, against all odds, able to defeat their enemies, overcome their flaws and in doing so become complete.’
‘Needless to say, endings are important,’ Blogger and author, Kristen Lamb wrote. Her method for having a knockout ending? ‘Your novel has thrust a likable, relatable protagonist into a collision course with the Big Boss Troublemaker. The Big Boss Battle must deliver all you (the writer) have been promising. Endings tie up all loose ends and sub-plots and, if we have done our job, will leave the reader a feeling of resonance.’
Now, that’s a good ending.
Are you able to find the true end of your stories? Have you ever felt betrayed by a bad ending?
Yvette K. Carol
Just as in the middle of your novel there are only three rules: Escalate! Escalate! Escalate! At the end of your novel, there are only three rules: Payoff! Payoff! Payoff! ~ David Farland