As I write, NaNoWriMo is scant hours away from kicking off (I’m on Eastern Summer Time currently), which means that this is the last entry in my “Countdown to NaNoWriMo” series. Parting is such sweet sorrow. There’s really only one subject that I can write about as this series comes to a close, and that is endings.
While there’s a certain satisfaction in typing those two words “The End” as you finish a long draft, it’s not always easy to achieve that satisfaction. I’ve already mentioned how I never arrived at that point in my 2012 NaNoWriMo entry a couple of times in this blog series, and how that was a catalyst to the more structured approach (including bits of the hero’s journey and snowflake method) I’m taking for my 2013 entry.
For me there are really only three basic types of endings. There’s the happy ending, the downbeat ending and the ambiguous ending. I’m a fan of all three but I find that my writing tends towards ambiguity. The archetypical happy ending is, of course, “And they all lived happily ever after,” which can work well, but to me is just a shade unrealistic. Happiness seems too fleeting a feeling to be an “ever after” thing. I think my favorite take on this ending is from Stephen King’s otherwise unremarkable The Eyes of the Dragon:
“Did they all live happily ever after? They did not. No one ever does, in spite of what the stories may say. They had their good days, as you do, and they had their bad days, and you know about those. They had their victories, as you do, and they had their defeats, and you know about those, too. There were times when they felt ashamed of themselves, knowing that they had not done their best, and there were times when they knew they had stood where their God had meant them to stand. All I’m trying to say is that they lived as well as they could, each and every one of them; some lived longer than others, but all lived well, and bravely.”
Ironically, it’s one of the few King books that has a satisfying ending. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a straightforward happy ending. The evil is defeated. The hero gets the girl. All is good and right with the world. Sometimes it’s immensely satisfying to have everything tied up and resolved in a neat little bow, especially if the characters have been through some real torments to get to that point. I prefer endings that have just a hint of unease, such as in the film A Boy and His Dog which (SPOILER ALERT, but I am discussing endings here, so it goes with the territory) finishes up with the titular boy Vic and his sort of love interest Quila re-uniting with the dog, Blood. Quila and Blood both have very different ideas on further survival though and it comes as quite the shock when Vic and Blood solve their desert survival dilemma by eating Quila. It’s a discordant note in what is a fairly upbeat conclusion to a very strangely-toned film.
Of course some endings are just bleak and depressing. Sometimes this almost nihilistic approach works fantastically with the tone of the story. After all, I can’t think of any way 1984 should end except for “He loved Big Brother.” It’s simply tonally perfect. I think you have to be an incredibly strong writer to get away with such a downbeat ending without causing the reader to hurl the book away in frustration and curse your very name unto the seventh generation. Perhaps that’s why I’m fonder of Shakespeare’s tragedies than his comedies. Nothing like a bleak ending with nothing but death to attract a reader.
M personal favorite endings are the ones that leave readers and audiences guessing. I think that’s why I enjoy the last shot of the top in Inception so much. Does it fall?
I honestly don’t want to know.
How about you? Do you have a preferred ending style?
(Photo by Billy Alexander)