A friend recently asked me if I could say a few things on endings, since he had trouble with them and they seemed so easy for me. Let me first be clear that they’re not easy. Ever. That said, I have done a lot of conscious thinking about and working on endings so I will do my best to give you some food for thought.
I think the problem most people have with endings is that they are looking for a place to stop. In my experience, looking at an ending as a place to get to, as if your story is a foot race, is a recipe for disaster.
Well, maybe not disaster, but it will be dissatisfying.
I find I tend to plan a story in my head much, much longer than it actually ends up being on paper. For example, if I wrote a story that ended in a man arranging for the murder of his wife I might be tempted to end it at the moment the decision is made or the deal is sealed, but this isn’t actually the interesting part of the story.
Remember that people love stories because of characters, not events. If I ended the story on the murder its self I have centered the story around an event. I want to center the story on the people.
So I tend to have a much longer ending to the story in my mind. What does our murderer do after he’s arranged it? Is he totally unaffected? Does he go to a coffee shop and chat with his friends? Does he go to the cemetery to pick out her plot? Does he break down in his car?
What will he do if he meets someone doing one of these things? What will he do when the police ultimately come to talk to him? What will he say to his wife’s sister when she confronts him at the funeral?
All of these are likely to contain more interesting endings than the deal itself. They all reveal more about the character. You want to wind your story down, instead of dropping it unceremoniously as soon as you’ve hit your last plot point.
If you are heavy planner and like to make outlines for your story, you might want to make a few after the official end of the story. If nothing else, this will help you get to know your characters better.
I am not a fan of the flourish ending, where the author suddenly dumps a bunch of poetry on us to explain what his story means. I feel the ending should have the same cadence as the rest of the story.
Your ending is just the ending you chose, but it’s not the end of the story or the characters. You do not have to reinforce the ending with a hard stop. It’s alright to end on a sentence that suggests more is happening. You can end on our murderer driving to the cemetery for instance.
Unless you physically destroy the entire universe, there is always more to your story, even if you don’t write it. Even if you do destroy the universe…well, nothingness is unstable and there’s always something more to come.