Chris Parker


Chris Parker

Endings really matter


Endings really matter. No matter what the context, the ending is the final part of the experience. It’s the bit we find most easy to remember when we walk away or turn our attention elsewhere. All too often, the ending becomes the lens through which we look and back and reflect; the measure by which we decide if it – whatever it might have been – was worth the engagement. Endings really matter because they are the nearest part of the previous thing; we carry their influence with us into whatever it is we are doing next.

It doesn’t matter whether we are writing a poem, a play, a novel or a work of non-fiction, you have to get the ending right. In fact, if you do everything else brilliantly and then fail to provide an equally great ending the likelihood is that your audience will feel disappointed. If you don’t believe me, just take a moment to answer the following questions:

  • What is your favourite novel?
  • What is your favourite film?
  • Do they both have great endings?

Whilst I have no way of determining your answers to the first questions, I’m absolutely sure the answer to the last question was ‘Yes’. We can’t finish a story feeling positive about it if it didn’t end well. Even if a story has a great beginning and a great middle, if the ending doesn’t match we feel let down. In fact, if it’s great until the ending, we feel especially let down.    

So, how do we plan for and then write a great ending?

Whilst there is no secret formula that guarantees success, there are several points – some are guidelines, some are questions – worth considering. These include:

  1. Treat writing a story like going on a journey and begin with your ending in mind. Even if you are not clear precisely how the story will lead to that ending, knowing your destination from the moment you start can influence what and how you write on both a conscious and subconscious level. 
  2. Ensure the ending, when you reach it, is acceptable to the reader. In other words, make sure it is a consequence of the previous decisions or behaviours of some of the characters involved. Even if the ending comes as a surprise, it ought to be seen as logical or likely in hindsight. Remember, if the reader isn’t satisfied with the ending, they are not fully satisfied with the story.
  3. Decide to what degree the ending needs to provide or imply conflict resolution. 
  4. Decide to what degree the ending needs to be vague – consider which elements have to be addressed obviously and which, if any, can be ignored. Know what you are going to close, what you will leave open to your reader’s imagination and what you might even encourage them to ignore. 
  5. Identify factors that could influence the content and style of the ending. For example, if you are writing a traditional romance your readers will probably not respond well to a non-traditional ending. If you are writing a trilogy you will probably have more opportunities open to you for different endings (certainly for the first two books) than if it is a one-off, stand-alone story.

The other thing we have to bear in mind is that, as writers, we have to be ready and willing to stop. Sometimes it’s too easy to just keep writing. Sometimes we can be so caught up with our own characters that we don’t to let them go. Personally, I believe we owe it to our characters and our readers to recognize and respond to the last page when we get to it.

The great novelist Frank Herbert said, ‘There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.’ Remembering that we just have to choose the best possible place. And then present it well.