Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Art of the Narrative

I've finished up the ending of my Thomas novel (finally), and while it isn't very good yet, I know it will get there.

Nothing is as awful as a bad ending. The ending is one of those elements crucial to a good book, for if it tells too much or wraps up too little, doesn't make sense, or takes everything off on some weird tangent, readers will be disappointed. Jung claimed that we read so that we can "practice" our own endings, so endings are especially meaningful to us as readers.

I was reminded of this as I put my kids to bed last night. Since our books are still packed, and will likely be packed for a few more weeks (ugh!), we told stories to each other. I started things out, putting together a goofy story about a purple, hair giraffe who ended up living in northern Canada. Then my son told a story in three sentences. His typical method of creating plot is establishing that something is stupid:

Once upon a time there was a red crab.
He was very stupid.
The end.

Dreadful. Naturally, I didn't tell him it was dreadful, but I my mind, buzzing about my own ending (to be written once the kids went to bed), took note of the fact that an ending which comes too quickly (and says too little) won't be satisfactory.

My daughter, not to be outdone, told a story which started out very well... a leopard who ate all his friends and had to learn non-violence if he was to not be alone in the world... but she continued the story long after the climax had occurred, carrying through for nearly ten minutes to express how he met a girl leopard, they had eight cubs, and the reformed leopard taught them how to hunt and kill (no joke). By the end even my eyes were rolling.

Again, my writing brain jotted down the reality that an ending, if too drawn out and too filled with nonessentials, could really bore the snot out of readers.

Perhaps a balance should be struck. What do you think should be in an ending? What endings do you tend to love or hate? Why?


  1. I hate inconclusive endings where tons of clever potential threads are left dangling or there's no immediate sense of resolution. I hate climaxes that come in the middle of long books (Grisham comes to mind) so that you're snoring by the time it ends.

    I hate endings, particularly in works where some sort of tension/promise has been carried on for what seems indefinitely, that fail to fulfill the promise of the endless tension. True, sometimes nothing's going to be good enough to pull it off, but some endings are so lame you want a refund on all the time spent leading up. You can see this frequently in series and novels that were taken far longer than they should have been.

    I also hate endings that clean everything up neatly, but only after a contrived catastrophe that looked like all was lost before hand (often resolved with far too little difficulty). I don't like being manipulated, at least not so clumsily I can spot it.

    An ending can make or break a story. But, if the story itself doesn't do it's job, no ending's going to save it.

    I do like happy endings.

  2. I like ending that satisfy… they could be sad, traumatic, surprising or happy. As long as it makes sense and the main part of the book was building towards that ending.

    I tend to write happier endings, like main character success with a huge price paid, i.e. friends or loved ones dying for the cause.

    The ending must mean something; it must elicit emotions, and stick with me after the book is closed.

    The ending must answer the questions the reader gained while reading the work.

    The ending must be complete, where all threads of the story come together.

    And hopefully it’s not too predictable.

  3. I like endings that leave me with no questions and are still open enough that there could be more of the same tension in a second or third book. Too neat, to tied up naahhh!

  4. I love those which no one expects and contradicts somehow everything I've stated before...

  5. I think a good ending just ties the remaining loose ends together and answers any remaining questions that haven't been answered yet. (And maybe hints at what the main characters are going to do in the next book if it is a series.)

  6. When climbing a mountain, it's best to end up either at the top or the bottom with some idea of how you've gotten there rather than getting lost somewhere along the way. Then there are cliffhangers ...