Today I'm going to talk about endings that make you say, "ahhh."
We've all read books before that leave us wanting to know about the characters, as well as books that just make us... well... mad. Have you ever found yourself frustrated with an author for speeding through the ending, or for not giving an ending at all as a way of selling their next book in the series? It's like someone dangling pecan pie in front of my face and then taking it away just when I get a whiff!
This past weekend, I saw The Vow, a movie I've been anticipating for months now. I was so into this movie, really enjoying the writing as well as the acting and the premise. If you don't know, it's based off a true story about a husband and wife who get in a car crash, resulting in the woman's amnesia. She can't remember anything about their relationship or marriage. The last thing she remembers is being engaged to another man, so her husband has to fight to win her heart back and make her fall in love with him all over again, like it's the first time. The tension in this storyline as well as the acting was just wonderful. Talk about built-in conflict as both the husband and wife are wanting the same things, love an
d memory, but struggling with how to find that.
Here's the thing. After an hour and a half or however look the movie took, it just sort of... ends. I don't want to give away the ending in case you haven't seen it. But while the final note is certainly hopeful, it left me wanting so much more. I wanted to see them recite their vows once again. I wanted to see a white dress. I wanted to see a kiss. I felt feeling frustrated, like I had invested all this emotion with no way for that to be fulfilled by the story.
You don't want to do this to your reader.
Think back to your favorite old movies. Sabrina, An Affair to Remember, The Philadelphia Story. What do all of this have in common? A knock-out ending. We feel satisfied and convinced the characters really will live happily ever after. Even in movies with "sadder" endings, like Roman Holiday, where the characters don't end up together, we feel satisfied that this ending is the best extension of the story. And in commercial fiction and movies, we typically feel satisfied that the characters have grown as people and will feel happy.
How can you achieve a knock-out ending? It all depends on your particular story, so there is no one answer that will fit everyone. But
having your characters simply end up together is not enough. You need to decide what your characters' biggest challenges are, and then show your readers how everything the characters have faced throughout the book has enabled them to face those challenges in a new way, in a way that is ultimately successful. Everything doesn't necessarily have to be perfect in your characters' lives (think An Affair to Remember), and in fact, having problems may in some cases make your ending believable, but the thing that does have to be resolved is the character's main struggle in the book. That is what will leave your readers feeling satisfied. To continue with my Affair to Remember example, even though the couple faces the unthinkable and even though their romantic plans to meet at the Empire State Building fail, the ending is so much more romantic because it shows the challenges their love is strong enough to overcome. That is what modern movies are missing, and that is what you want to get in your story.
And a really good final kiss helps too.
Questions for comment: What are your favorite movies, and what do you love about their endings?