Tip #16: How to Write a Great Ending.
The key to a great ending is this: Give the readers that they want, but not in the way they expect it.
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As we read a novel, we are anticipating the outcome, the climax, the “Who did it?” or “How the heck is this going to end?” It must follow logically from the story. It should be a good twist, or an "Ah Ha!" moment or an "Oh no!" moment, something the reader does not expect, perhaps cannot expect.
The ending must must tie up all loose ends. Think back to the fine novels you’ve read and fine films you’ve seen. The good ones will tie up each and every plot and subplot, no matter how small.
The ending must be “right.” There is no formula. The ending may be happy, sad, tragic or humorous. But it must be "right.” There is no guide for “right.” It comes with our sense of what a good story is. The reader should be wholly satisfied, not somewhat empty.
The ending should have your characters face their dilemma and act. No one likes a story where the protagonist wins because his mother-in-law solved the problem. That’s not a protagonist. It’s a passive observer. We want the person to act to solve his or her own problems, have his or her own revelation, take his or her own risks.
The ending must be logical. The ending must flow naturally from the sequence of events prior to it.
Then ending must not be by chance. If you’re writing a crime drama, and the good cop protagonist happens to run into the bad guy at a market and arrests him there to end the story . . . well, the reader will groan. Not interesting. Example= Deus Ex Machina: In ancient Athens a complex play with love, war, and revenge may end by having (really) a stage member lower god onto the stage by pulley, and then god makes everything right. The whole drama is taken out of the characters’ hands. That's Deus Ex Machina – God by machine.
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The way the story ends must NOT be inevitable. Give the reader what he wants. But, if he expects the way it’s going to end-- not a satisfying story. In short, the ending should make sense within the world of the story. Yes, it should be "logical", but not inevitable.
Your protagonist must grow. He or she is not the same person as before. More honest. More courageous. More trustworthy. Something else. We, the readers, want to see a change. If my protagonist is the same person at the end as in the beginning, my story is (excuse the expression) shit. The protagonist must be a different person at the end. We, the readers, want that.
Your reader can “feel” the ending. The ending raises emotions. A “wow” is fine. A “yikes” is fine. An “Oh, now I see,” is fine. Tears are fine. Anger may be appropriate.
In most instances, an ending should be a surprise. Even if the reader expects all to be okay in the end (The Fugitive), the reader should not be able to see how it comes about. (Again, “Give the reader what they want, but not in the way they expect it.”)
Every plot and subplot should point to the end, but not reveal it. As the reader finishes the story, his or her mind should immediately be able to grasp how the ending “fits.” The ending should cause the reader’s mind to race backward over the chapters and plots and subplots and see that it “fits.”
The reader should discover that your ending is the only right one. How many times have said, “I liked the story but the ending sucks.” Not good. Our endings should be inevitable, “right,” and a surprise. Again, “Give the reader what he wants, but not in the way he expects it.”
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get inside your mind?
Homework: As we watch films, TV shows and read books, pay attention to our inner emotions as the story concludes. See what “works” and what doesn’t. See if it feels “right.” Ask yourself: Did the author give the person what they wanted, but not in the way they expected it?