Oct 28, 2011

Enticing Endings

This week I'm talking about story structure.

Here's the thing about endings. No ending should be the end. The best ending, while satisfying, leaves the reader wanting more, and also hints that there might still be more to come. Whether it's just the end of a chapter or the end of the whole book, there should be something calling the reader back for more.

When I finish a book, even if it's the last in a series, I want to believe that the characters could still have more adventures ahead of them. I feel like, if what I'm seeing is the greatest adventure these people will ever have, how sad will that be for them? To go through life knowing they've already achieved the best they can hope for? In life, I believe the next greatest thing we experience is always just around the corner. Things should keep getting better. I want the same in the books I read. This might be why I love origin stories so much - When you're seeing the protagonist just become the hero for the first time, you know he's got countless stories ahead of him.

An ending which is clearly the last point of a character's adventures can be deeply satisfying as well, but I think I'll always have a stronger fondness for seeing the hero ride off into the sunset in search of more dangers to face.

My least favourite kind of ending sees the story come slowly to a standstill, like the fuel of the story has simply run out. If an ending has happened just a little too late, coming because there's simply no more story to tell rather than being the perfect moment to say goodbye to the characters, I tend to feel somewhat hollow. It's like waiting around too long at a party and realising you're the last one left. It's just you and the leftover streamers lying across the tables, the band packing up their gear, and an empty glass in your hand.

Do you have any favourite endings? What do you long to see most as you turn those last few pages?

I'll be at Gaelcon for much of the weekend, so my replies to comments and general online presence won't be as frequent as usual.


  1. My favourite ever ending is I Capture the Castle. I won't spoil it because it's fab and someone here may like to read it, but it really does make you feel that the characters are moving forward rather than freezing in a tableau. The main character at one point says that she likes to imagine characters in books living on after she stopped reading, so it's fitting that she does, too.

  2. In my last novel I had to work like the Dickens to end chapters with a feeling of more to come. It isn't my natural instinct, but I love it in the books that I read. I want my readers to think to themselves, "I'm going to stop at the end of this chapter and go to sleep" and then bargain with themselve to read "just a few more pages" as I have done so often.

    It's one talent that I like, but I'm sure working working on it.

    Ellen- I agree about Capture the Castle. It makes you yearn for a sequel or write your own in your head.

  3. Sorry for the massive typos, Paul. My computer firewall was throwing a fit. I tried to fix it, hit enter, and posted by mistake.

    That should of course read, "one talent that I lack, but I'm sure working on it."

  4. Oh yes, an ending should leave you thinking of the characters and what they're up to now. It should wrap up the story, but leave an opening there for everything else. Since I read it recently, the ending of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is good. It resolves the storyline and leaves you pondering what's in the future of several of the characters, as well as the future of the setting, itself.