A word to aspiring writers: readers read for the ending. I know that sounds silly, but it is so true. It is important to have character development and plot building, but the ending can make or break the entire story. It can make the reader feel joy, sadness, triumphant, or even a little smarter, but it should do just that: make them feel something. I know that the author has succeeded in this goal when I finish a book with a wide eyed expression, a smile on my face, or even tears in my eyes. This is what every author wants to accomplish, and I believe that a well-crafted ending is the key.
I recently finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula. With the cultural vampire craze, I figured it would be interesting to see where it all started. I thought the book was fantastic, until I got to the end. I had to purposely put the book down at night because it freaked me out, I was on the edge of my seat in suspense, and I was curious as to how and why this character had become such an icon of horror in pop culture. As I was nearing the end, the action was ramping up, and I assumed I was about to witness the ultimate showdown between good and evil, Van Helsing and Dracula (exciting, right?!), but no. Out of about a 350 page story, the ending took two of those pages. It was EXCITING, EXCITING, EXCITING…badum-bum, the end. What?! NO! The ending was what I had expected, but it was lack-luster at best!
In an ending, we instinctively root for the good guy, the underdog, to win against an uncommon foe. If the hero is killed and evil triumphs, what’s the point of having gone through the whole story? Think of your favorite story. What is the best part of it? I will bet that it is the ending when the hero beats the villain, the guy gets the girl, or when the motley crew of unlikely heroes band together to save the day. Even if the ending is sad or unexpected, it can still be good: Nicholas Sparks, anyone?
A “good ending” may be hard to actually define, but as a reader, I just seem to know when it’s right: the ending fits the theme of the book. I can think of two popular examples off the top of my head: Harry Potter and 1984. In the Harry Potter series, though the ending is an emotional roller coaster, it fits with the overall theme of the books: a young and unlikely hero is marked as the only one who can defeat the most evil of enemies. I will not go into any further details or ruin the ending, because I love people too much to do such a thing, but for those who have read it, you will agree with me.
Now, 1984 presents a whole different beast. The ending is shocking. If ever there was a story that I was expecting to end one way that did not, it was this one. Though the whole book seeks to serve as a public service announcement for the world to wake up to what our future could quite possibly turn into, I still wanted good to ultimately triumph. It does not. He does not. In this case, I did not feel that comforting sense of closure that comes when finishing a story that wraps itself up well. I am sure there are debates as to whether 1984 has an appropriate ending for its general message, but I was left almost disoriented with the abrupt and surprising end. It stands out in my memory for this reason.
Dear writers, I am a firm believer in the power of a good ending to make or break the entire story.
You must take your time to craft the ending, because the readers can tell if it is hurried, or even if you do not know how to end it and drag it out for three extra chapters. Endings can be tricky, and I give major kudos to those writers who can leave readers feeling any sort of emotion at the end. The feeling of “well, I guess that’s over” is not one that a writer wants to elicit from their reader.
Try writing a basic ending for your plot line and then writing the events of the story that will lead up to it, which obviously can be changed and molded as new ideas form. I have tried this when brainstorming story ideas and it is almost like running a race: you have a goal and you know where the finish line is, now you just have to do the work to get there.