Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Great endings…

My topic today is great endings, as opposed to happy endings, which I’m pretty sure are something dirty. (We’ll probably get a bunch of unexpected hits today, because I wrote happy endings.)

Not that I’m against endings which happen to be happy. All the books I’ve written to date have happy endings, hopeful endings if not entirely settled endings, and my two drunk writer cohorts both write in the romance genre, books which all have happily-ever-after endings. So I don’t want to talk about whether to make endings happy… I’m more interested in what makes endings great.

I’m just finishing revisions on a manuscript, trying to get it off to my agent so she’s got something else to sell. Problem is, I’m not feeling really confident about my ending and it’s got me thinking about endings in general.

I thought I’d consult my Vogler to see what he has to say on returning with the elixir and all that jazz, but for some reason I couldn’t find it today, and I think I only wanted to read it to get permission, to get some justification to end my book where I want to end it, where I always want to end my books, just as soon as everything’s resolved. (And adding to my lack of great-ending-confidence, an editor who was very interested in my last manuscript, but ultimately couldn't offer, told me she thought that book ended abruptly. It did. But I liked it that way.)

Based on all this, I know many (most?) readers like more ending than I do. They like something to come after the climax/resolution. Something that increases their confidence that everything turned out all right. They want to know the protagonist was still okay, even after coming down from the adrenaline high of surviving the climax. Not only do they want the protagonist to come down, the readers want time to calm down and absorb. This all makes sense to me. I know I need to push my stories just a bit past where I want to stop writing. I think my problem is that I know the characters will be okay... so after everything's resolved, it's just not interesting to me, anymore...

So, I’m ending challenged. Frequent DWT commenter Kimber, asked some time ago whether we’d do blog on epilogues. So, while this topic might please Kimber somewhat, it may also disappoint her. Why? Because I’m not sure I have an opinion on epilogues, per se. I think, like most things, it depends on the story. (And we've already established I'm confused about endings in general.)

I do think epilogues can tend toward the cliché. For example, a wedding scene at the end of a romance, or a scene with the couple and their kids a few years later. Now, full disclosure, I’ve written scenes like that… but I guess those epilogues in a romance have become cliché because they've been written so many times, and they've been written so many times because they work, because they’re satisfying to readers.

But I fear I've drifted off topic. I wanted to talk about what's driving me nuts right now... Here I go. It's my ending. My ending is boring and I think it probably tells rather than shows. Also, in the current draft, it includes an "insight" I ended up putting earlier in the book, and I do think it works better where it’s ended up, so to avoid redundancy, my ending will not only be boring and badly written it will also be insightless (if that were a word).

This weekend, I came up with a new final scene idea (not written yet) to let my protagonist return with her elixir. But, what is this planned scene I'm thinking of tacking on? Get ready for it, it’s a wedding scene. It does, however, have a twist… Not the protagonist's wedding, someone elses -- but still I feel it might be too corny and cliché.

How about you? Once the conflict’s resolved and the protagonist has demonstrated they’ve changed… Do you want more? Do you want the story wrapped up in a pretty bow? What makes a great ending for you? Help me. Please.


Christine said...

This is a tough one Maureen. Endings are not my strong suit either. I think I spend more time on the last five pages of my story than I do on the first five.

I like a sense of closure in the ending. Not necessarily "happy", but I want to know that the bad guys lost, the good guys are safe, and they will be able to kick back and have some fun. I tend to try and end my stories with a witty comment (try!) and usually a small gesture that shows the closure. A hand hold, smile, kiss.

I'll have to go back tonight and take a look at some of my keeper books and see how they ended.

Molly O'Keefe said...

There's an article in RWR this month on endings -- very timely Maureen.And hard -- I'll probably think about this all week.

But I think unlike any other scene in the book you give the reader what they want in an ending. Play around with expectation sure -- but in most cases of commercial fiction where storytelling is key -- give them the big finish. Give them the Hugh Grant ending with some jazz hands -- in your own way of course. Your way is pretty understated. You do not wanting your reader putting down a book that they've loved -- that they've gobbled up and saying -- hmmm....loved it but for the ending.

My feelings right now on prologues are this -- as a romance writer -- if you've had a lot of action or a lot of drama and not many "resting scenes" where in we get to see hints of how life will be after the book is over -- I go ahead with a prologue. Return with the elixer.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I meant epilogue...not prologue.

Maureen McGowan said...

Somehow for me, when I was writing romances the endings were easier... You know what the reader wants.
It's not like I don't know how the stories I'm writing now end... I'm just not sure how to end on a satisfying note without being corny.

Looking at a few keepers is a good idea Christine. I'm going to do that.

Sinead M said...

Endings are so tough. Usually by the time I get to the end of the book, I'm so sick of the thing, I just want it over with..

Maureen, I'd write the ending the way it's in your head, without worrying about corny and let your critique group decided if it works or not.. because it probably will..

And that's what we're there for..

Kimber said...

Molly, I could kiss you, that was exactly my reason for wanting an epilogue in my last manuscript. It was a quest plot and I wanted to reassure the reader that when the quest was all over, the couple stayed together. That there was enough bonding in the relationship (which I felt I showed all along) to keep them stuck together.

As for endings I like. I like endings where not everything is perfect (i.e. many of the heroine/hero's flaws which made them interesting are still there). If its a wedding scene, its not a perfect wedding (who has those? I haven't been to one yet), its a wedding in tune with their personalities and their flaws.

Thank you Maureen for handling this! Very enlightening!

Wylie Kinson said...

Ah, endings... so many good ones, so many disappointments.

Tidy, HEA endings are good, but sometimes they just don't fit the book.
Have you read 'One Perfect Rose' by MJ Putney? (if not, this won't make sense) - the hero should have died. Instead, the author let him live, after all the drama and lead-up, by way of a quick, tidy, second-last-page-of-the-book 'ta-da' finish. I was crushed. HE SHOULD HAVE DIED, then, in the epilogue, met her in the heaven-garden she'd dreamed about earlier. That would have been a heart-breaking, happy-sad, stay-with-you-forever ending.

To summarize,... As a reader, I like an ending that serves the story, is right for the characters, - the most natural conclusion to fit the 299+ pages that came before it.
Gone with the Wind is the perfect example of what I mean...

in my haven't-had-a-novel-published opinion :)

Wylie Kinson said...

I should add that I LOVED 'One Perfect Rose'.

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