February 4, 2011

How Do You Like Your Endings: Loose? Twisty? Over Easy?

I'm about 2/3 of the way through my first draft, but I have no idea how my book is going to end at this point. I've been thinking a lot about plot twists, cause and effect, and how characters influence the outcome of a story. It's been a fun journey.

Anyway, I thought I'd do some digging on how to end a story, since all good stories must come to an end at some point. Just for fun, I looked up Twist Ending on Wikipedia. There's a list of goodies you can use in you writing including: flashback, unreliable narrator, Anagnorisis or discovery about a character (think Darth Vader when you discover he's Luke's father), irony, red herring, and cliff hanger.

How do you feel about ambiguous endings or a book where not all the loose ends are tied up? Personally, I think all the ends should be tied in pretty little knots one way or another. Either that, or I'd better be able to tell that the author deliberately left it untied and had a good reason to do so.

I know this could stir up some controversy, but Lost is an example of leaving loose ends that were not intentional. I could go on for days about how frustrating that show turned out to be, but the point is, the writers built up some mystery and left it unsolved. Think what you will about the last episode, but you have to admit: Walt's powers were never resolved and they should have been. The numbers had some supernatural power that was never explained. Claire's baby had some doomsday-bringing powers that could only be tamed if Claire raised him, then he was raised by Kate and nothing happened. Like I said, I could go on for days. But I won't. The point is: sometimes you can leave ends open. Just make sure you do it with purpose.

Jennifer R. Hubbard posted about Tying Up Loose Ends and I completely agree with her. She says:
As a reader, I look for a resolution, a sense of completeness, and yet also a sense of continuity. 
Holly Lisle talks about a story's "gravity". Basically, that all the elements of the story pull the characters to a surprising, yet logical point. Whether it's a "happy" ending or a "tragic" ending is up to the author. Usually. :) (Sometimes the gravity pulls too hard in one direction and the author has little choice. It has happened before.)


Charmaine Clancy said...

I HATE ambiguous endings - something has to be resolved (although, maybe not everything).

I like a twist right near the end, but I prefer my final chapter (when reading) to be a calming resolution piece showing how things sit after the event. Sherlock Holmes always solved his case and usually ended with a revealing of all the events leading up to the crime, either by the detective or by way of confession from the criminal, but usually the Professor Moriarty mystery was still left unsolved to tie the various novels together.

I did not see the final Lost, although I did watch most of the series. Once I'd heard the lame 'twist' I decided I couldn't sit through it. Holly Lisle's course on editing is a fantastic way to make sure you tie up loose ends :-)

Sari Webb said...

Great post Emily. I too need resolution at the end of a book (or movie). I get antsy when I finish a book and there's loose ends galore. I know sometimes writers to it do be artsy, to leave what happens up to the mind of the reader (like Inception), but personally I'd rather just KNOW, ya know?

I'm also a sucker for a happy ending ;). I get too drawn in to good books for them to end sadly, it takes me ages to shake of the mopy feeling.

Prue said...

Your post is so pertinent to what is exercising my mind right now: endings and, more importantly, The Ambiguous Ending.

I've come across a few of these recently and I have one at the end of Mystery in Morocco. Mine needs to be changed. It's ambiguous because I haven't worked on it yet. I had the feeling that other ambiguous endings which have come my way recently were of that nature. The author got to the end and couldn't be bothered to work out a suitable ending! That may be a little harsh, but that's how it seemed.

Some ambiguous endings are good, they are right for the preceding story. Yes, I need to go away and think about this some more.

Thanks for raising this and giving all the links, Emily.

Brittany said...

Ambiguous endings usually make me go crazy, but in books I don't mind them too much if there's a sequel. The ending of the movie Inception was one of those ones that made me go crazy. The top could have either stopped spinning or kept on spinning, and we'll never know.

The show Persons Unknown had an ending that actually made me angry. It didn't resolve anything, and pretty much turned the story into one big circle. It just made me wonder what the point was of the show.

I LOVE twist endings. O. Henry does some great twist endings in his short stories, and I've always wanted to write like that.

Unknown said...

Inception was a funny one. I had a feeling it would have an ambiguous ending, so I chose to believe it ended the way I wanted it to. :)

O. Henry has some pretty amazing endings. Gift of the Magi comes to mind.

Sherlock Holmes is a great example of how and ending can be nicely resolved without being predictable. :) I loved those books.

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