Endings to be useful must be inconclusive.
~Samuel R. Delany
I used to get angry at books that ended at the start of more hijinks. I get emotionally invested in books and when I know that there won’t be anymore I feel cheated. It’s not unlike the feeling of disappointment I used to get from doing long division and discovering a remainder. Why can’t 10 just be divided by three nicely so I’m not left with the .3 repeated? I’ve since learned that that’s just how numbers work. Oh right this is a writing blog. That’s just how books work… or ought to. Sometimes books just end in the worst possible way.
Easily the worst ending I’ve read was for the Twilight series. (Please note that this is the only time I will admit to having read it… this device will now self-destruct). There was no tension, no stakes, no sense that their lives were in any way connected to reality. Just everyone living happily ever after forever and ever and they never age and are always rich and pretty. Basically nothing interesting will ever happen again and they are fucking immortal vampires/werewolfs/vampire-human hybrids.
Twilight’s ending is like I finally get invited to party with the cool kids but it turns into an regressive anti-drug parable and I realize how lame the supposed cool people are. At least, this is how I imagine hanging out with the cool people would be since I was never invited and am still harbouring resentment.
There are some terribly difficult parts to writing and writing endings has got to be the second hardest one. (The hardest is finding maintaining a steady level of caffiene so you don’t vibrate out of your chair). Since I’m a relentlessly negative person, I will channel this negativity into a force of good to illustrate how to maybe not make a sucky ending. Working backwards from here we can find a few desireable attributes for a non-sucky ending.
Tension – Give me characters that I feel exist outside of the book. That once this story is over they continue to have awesome adventures but I don’t get to hang out with them.
Resolution – Don’t leave everything up in the air. I find the ending of A New Hope to be more satisfying than Empire. Blowing up the Death Star was a pretty solid move by the rebels. In Empire if it wasn’t for Darth Vader Father reveal, it would kind of suck. If people weren’t reeling from the schock of Vader being Luke’s deadbeat dad, they might notice that the ending is kind of lame. The Millenium Falcon flys off to save Han. Everyone else is safe. This indeterminate bs won’t fly.
There’s a fine balance between these two and really it falls to the author to deliver. Conversely one of my favourite endings is in Totally Joe. I won’t ruin any of the surprises, but James Howe manages a pretty awesome ending with the elements I highlighted above. Unfortunately, even knowing that these two points exist isn’t enough and artfully negotiating between them is what makes a good author.
Or that’s just one unpublished aspiring writer’s opinion… What do you think makes a good/bad ending?