02/28 – Diana McCollum

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Story Endings

Hi everyone! 

I am Young Adult and Middle Grade author Barbara Binns, writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for adolescents and teens. As my tagline says, I write Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them.  

There are writers who write stories for fun. I know a few. Some write so well I used to try persuading them to seek publication. I stopped doing that when I realized publication would take away their sense of fun. There is freedom in writing for only friends and family. They prefer that freedom.

I write for readers. I want my stories read and enjoyed. I want them willing to pay to be entertained. As a result, I consider my opening scene part of a contract I make with my readers, aka my silent partners. I promise to stimulate both my readers' brains and emotions. Those promises are checks that must be "cashed in" by story's end.

Whether I am crafting an ending to a scene, a short story, or a whole novel, I have certain rules I  make myself follow.  The number one rule is that the ending must make sense in relation to the rest of the work. At the same time, it should be unexpected and maintain a level of suspense.  Sometimes I give my readers a surprise or twist ending. Other times, as when I write a romance, I adhere to reader expectations. That means at least a Happy For Now ending, with an h/H getting together, if not riding off into the sunset.  I can always surprise my reader by the path I take to get them to their state of bliss.

Either way, my goal is to first gives readers an "Oh my God" reaction when they reach the end. That should immediately be followed by the realization: "Of course, this is the only way it could happen."

That's how I work to keep readers eager to proceed to the next chapter, and then to grab my next book, eager to do business with me again.

Resolution vs Ambiguity:

I have to strike a balance between these two areas. As I said, managing genre-specific requirements comes first. My first novels, Pull and Being God, were both Young Adult romances where I carefully adhered to romance rules. Readers of detective stories and mysteries expect the bad guys to be vanquished and the crime solved. Science fiction, fantasy and literary stories have more flexibility regarding reader expectations. There readers may accept, even welcome, writers who expect them to do a little of the analysis work regarding the ending.  There are different techniques for making an ending I use.

Types of endings

Happy - These are endings that must be earned by the protagonist. That means there must be the possibility of an unhappy alternative. Happy endings come with a cost, the protagonist suffers greatly and pays for that joy at the end. happy ending. This is the ending I used with my first YA novel, Pull when my hero is forced to choose between two different futures, one of which leads to a scholarship and likely career...if he abandons the people he loves.

Sad - These are the opposite of happy endings. I have done a few of these in short stories, because sometimes sad is the right truth to tell. Even sad endings must be earned, and offer the protagonist the possibility the possibility of happiness, if only...

Epiphany - is another ending that must feel earned. In the case of Being God, I did this by making the character get so low he has  to come to a realization about his life. As a teen alcoholic, his epiphany comes when he realizes he needs help to change his life, and that his father, the man he has considered a weakling, can be a part of that solution. I was at my  most cruel with Malik Kaplan. That was the only way I felt I could make it logical that he would come to that realization and go from thinking he is the most important being he knew to realizing that he needed to reach for a higher power.

Open aka Zero endings happen when a character fails to change after the epiphany, or they miss the point they should have learned during the epiphany. This type of ending allows readers to project their own meaning or reach their own epiphany. I have never tried an ending like this. A lot of skill is required to make this ending work.  (The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison provides an example.)

I will mention one more ending that I have sometimes used in some of my short stories. In the Twist - I work to deliberately subvert what the readers expects to happen at the end.

Finally, there is the Symbolic ending. I'm leaning toward this for my work in progress, using butterflies. With this ending, the story stops on a resonant image, something that harkens back to earlier images and illustrates the story theme.  The feather floating around at the beginning and ending of Forrest Gump is an example of a symbolic ending.

Last, but not least, comes the Epilogue ending. In this type of ending, frequently seen in romance novels, the end is a followup on the characters, usually after a change in time. I sometimes use short epilogues, I'm adding one now to a WIP featuring time travel. It's very short, and as I write it, I keep in mind that it needs to enhance the story theme and/or add a new dimension to be worthwhile for readers. I plan to make sure it contributes to the payback on the original contract made in chapter one.


Judith Ashley said...

Since I'm more of an "intuitive" or "pantser" writer, I've never considered types of ending. I've just written what comes to me. Thanks so much for introducing me to a different way to view "The End"

Barbara Binns said...

A big part of this occurs during the editing process. While I have to know about the Epiphany early in the process, it comes when I have a character who has a big lesson to learn. Happy ending is pretty much standard for me. Things like twists are sometimes added during revision, along with symbolism etc. I do a kind of what value can I insert in the ending. Plus a check of the start to make sure I have fulfilled my real and implied contract points with the reader.

Sarah Raplee said...

Barbara, this was an eye-opening post for me.I had not learned much about the craft of endings. Thank you for this awesome lesson!