Tuesday, 29 April 2014
Day Twenty-Nine: Happily Ever After - Writing a satisfying story ending #BYBin30
By now, if you are writing a fiction novel, you are nearly finished with the writing of your book. You will be getting somewhere near the end of your story. Just as important as beginnings are to a story, so, too, the ending can make or break a story.
An important thing to keep in mind while writing your ending is that it has to make sense. All of the clues or foreshadowing you have given to your readers preciously in the book must play into this particular ending. All of the events must lead to this unavoidable conclusion. The ending must seem impossible to achieve while at the same time inevitable.
There are three types of endings that can work in your story.
Happy endings: Most of your readers will want a happy ending. Very few writers can pull of an unhappy ending where the protagonist does not prevail and manage to retain any of the readers of the first book for the next book. Readers will often feel betrayed if they don't get their happy ending. Happy endings don't have to be completely happy. In a happy ending, your protagonist must prevail. For a truly happy ending, your protagonist not only prevails but manages to find a peaceful conclusion.
Sad but winning endings: Happy endings don't have to be completely happy. Supporting characters might die in the end, but most important ingredient in a happy ending is the protagonist needs to prevail. In rare circumstances, the protagonist can die but win by doing so, making the world or their loved ones safe through their sacrifice, but this is a difficult approach to take in story writing, as this is not the ending your readers will want to read. If your writing is evocative enough, they might accept such a sad "win," but it's a much more difficult path on which to try and take your readers.
Cliffhangers: Many authors take the tactic of leaving huge cliffhangers at the end of their novels, when it is a series novel or part of a trilogy. This is where the main element of the story, the main conflict, does not get resolved by the end of the story, but the reader is left having to read the next book (or several more books) in the series in order to reach a resolution to the conflict.
While there should be, in a series or trilogy, an over-arching conflict that won't be resolved in book one, each book should also have a stand-alone issue that is the center of the book and gets resolved. In trilogies, the cliffhanger is more forgivable, because the reader knows, when they buy a book that is part of a trilogy, it will be quickly resolved within the three books. (But if, in writing a trilogy, you choose to take this tactic, please only do so if the books in your trilogies are not going to have several years between publications.)
In a series, this is less forgivable because the reader does not know how many books it will take to reach the conclusion. Unfortunately, to leave everything unanswered or unresolved is just too much of a sign that a) the author doesn't care about his or her readers enough to bother resolving things by the end of the book b) the author is making a ploy to get the readers to buy the next book (which feels dishonest) or c) the author doesn't actually know how to end the book yet.
Many readers don't like reading books with cliffhangers. I think writers need to keep that in mind that with a book that doesn't resolve anything, they might be alienating some of their readers. It's personal preference that a large proportion of the reading public share. In a series book, you should never leave off on a cliffhanger; even when there is some aspect that is unresolved in the current book, the meat of that particular book should be resolved.