Friday, November 30, 2007


So here we are, the last day of November, the last day of my post-a-day experiment. I think it's gone pretty well overall. At least, there weren't more than a couple days when I had to reach to post something.

I think it's fitting for this last post that I talk about endings. I keep referring to this being one of my big hobbyhorses, expressing surprise that I haven't posted about it. I do remember writing a whole article about it for Sofawolf some years ago, so let's see what I can remember off the cuff.

Endings are often the weakest point in a book, and they are perhaps the second most critical part (the beginning is the most critical; if you don't pull the reader in, they never get to the ending). The ending of your book or story is the final impression the reader is left with, so it has to be good for them to remember it fondly. So many books and stories I read just stop when the plot ends, or when the author runs out of ideas, and though all the story elements may have been wrapped up, the reader is left with a distinctly incomplete feeling. Not good. Almost as bad are the endings where everything is wrapped up in a neat package. Unless it's a fairy tale, those endings leave the reader feeling that the story was unrealistic.

So what is a good ending? For me, it comes back to character (gee, there's a surprise, huh?). If your character has completed his or her arc, then there's a good chance your ending will be just fine. "Completing an arc," of course, means that the character has answered the question posed by your story. It may be an abstract question, or a mystery; it may be something internal (how can I reconcile my inner desires with my obligations?). At the end, the question should be answered, and the world and the character should be in equilibrium.

In my story "Spook," in Shadows In Snow, the story ends when the character has solved his problem--which is short of a resolution to the events of the plot. But at that point, the events of the plot no longer matter, because what was driving the story was the character.

To make your ending aesthetically beautiful as well as satisfying, you'll want to incorporate the imagery and themes common to your book. One of my favorite endings is from Richard Adams's lovely "Watership Down." It begins with the simple sentence: "The primroses were over." The image of a bloom of flowers dying heralds summer, a dry and difficult time, a time of maturing. The theme of seasons plays out through the book, as the rabbits go through summer (travel), fall (finding their new warren, where food is plentiful), and winter (war). And when finally the book ends and the story is over, it ends with the following sentence: "... where the primroses were just beginning to bloom."

Make your ending harken back to the beginning, to the way you hooked the reader into your story. Gently release him or her with the knowledge that the story is over, it's wrapped up. You may come back for more, but for now, things are quiet and settled. We'll let you know if anything else happens.

That way, you leave them with a happy (or at least satisfied) feeling. And they'll remember that the next time they go to pick up one of your stories, or one of your books. They may not know they remember it, but they will.

And with that, I will close out November. I'll be back in December, of course, but I won't have Internet access for a couple days, so this timing works out well. Hope you've enjoyed NaBloMo! Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next week. :)


Rikoshi said...

For what it's worth, I do honestly believe that the ending to Common and Precious is one of the most solid endings I've ever come across in a novel.

Tim Susman said...

Hey, thanks! I did work hard on it and I'm glad to hear it worked well. I really think it's worth spending a lot of time on the ending of a story (I will often spend hours revising the last line to have just the right rhythm; I did with C&P), because, again, that's what lingers in people's minds after they close the book.