Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Perfect Ending to a Perfect Story (Hopefully)

We've invested a lot of time and energy into writing the perfect story, only to be faced with creating the perfect ending. We want our conflict wrapped up with a nice, neat bow, but we don't want to cheat our readers. My prime example of this faux pas is the Hunger Games series.

I loved about 2 1/2 books of this series, and was furious at the last half of the 3rd book. Suzanne Collins broke every promise she had made to her reader, and she broke many of the beginning rules of writing. I'll try not to spoil the story for those of you who haven't read it yet, and if you haven't read the series, you should...at least as a case study. But basically, Collins wrote her character into a corner (which is good practice, by the way), and then gave up trying to find a logical, believable way to get that character out of the corner (which is NOT a good practice). Plus her main character did not actively solve the conflict driving the entire series, and the difficulties in the romantic relationships were never resolved, but instead ignored and forgotten. It honestly felt like she had a deadline, ran out of time, and just threw together whatever she could come up with. In other words, a completely dissatisfying and frustrating ending for an otherwise enjoyable series.

Now that my rant is complete, for once, I think the rest of this post may be pretty short because I don't have anything better to say than what a quick search will reveal. (Here is a link to a particularly fun blog with different endings to practice and play with.)  About the only "new" thing I can contribute is what I do to finish a story.

It's hard for me to write about how I finish a story because the ending is something I think long and hard about, and really it's just a gut feeling when something works. My driving force is that I want my reader to leave my story with an emotional response that lingers with them. This takes various forms depending upon the genre and type of story I am writing.

In my medieval novel, roses play a significant role in the telling of my story. They are mostly symbolic of a whole bunch of related things. In fact, my working title is Roses of Chesterley. At the end of the story, my main character is pregnant and wants to name the daughter "Rose." Without giving away the whole story, my hope is that after going through the emotional and physical journey with my main character, the reader will understand the multiple layers of significance for both the character and the story in general by naming her daughter Rose.

An emotional story does not have to have a happy ending. In fact, in both of my horror stories (*spoiler alert*) my main character dies. But the character dies for a greater purpose, though that purpose takes different forms in each. Just because it's more of my personality, I still try to engender hope for the future, even in dark stories. I think this makes the reader think back to how I set up this hope throughout the story, which is exactly what I want.

So in other words, find that ending that makes your reader sit back and say, "Ahh," when they finish your story. Sometimes it takes multiple tries and lots of feedback from readers. But when your gut tells you that your bow is perfectly tied, both you and your reader will come back for more.