I’ve covered the challenges I faced when writing beginnings two weeks ago. In this post, I’ll share the challenges I’ve faced when writing the endings.
Before I begin, I’ll mention a post I made in April 2018, where I shared my thoughts about what makes a good ending from a reader’s PoV. Now that it’s done, let’s get to the topic at hand.
Too long, too short?
I’ve seen a book where the wrap-up took merely a paragraph or two after the final battle was brought to its end. I’ve seen books that needed several chapters to tie all the loose ends. There’s no universal solution to what’s the ideal length but there’s a simple fact: all the plot threads should be brought to their end unless you plan to return to them in a following book or are leaving them open intentionally (which itself carries some risks if the intent is not clear).
The problem: For someone getting into writing, it might not be as easy to say what’s just enough. It might be easier in case of series as the end of the first book needs to leave some clues for the sequels. It might actually be the hardest in case of a standalone debut – you need to close all the plot threads you created without drawing out the ending too much. On the other hand, the ending should not be so short the reader won’t truly know how some of those plot threads ended.
The solution: Practice makes perfect, I guess. Writer who takes the craft seriously (no matter if it’s his/her hobby or primary source of income) will go through several drafts during which the most glaring issues will be brought to light. Beta readers and/or editors can reveal more issues. In turn, well-done feedback will help you learn to spot the issues in the future.
Spread the load
The problem: Having a story with several plot threads might make the finale too drawn-out, especially if it ends with an epic battle and it seems there might be a lot left to read while it’s already over.
The solution: It’s not necesary to leave everything for the very end. Some side plots can be closed before the main story reaches its conclusion. Alternatively, you might do some ‘pre-closing’ of those side plots and have them reach a state that’ll require only a short wrap-up. This allows to close all the plot threads at once without making it too long and/or too confusing to deal with many plot lines at once.
Series have an advantage as some plot lines might be closed by the ending of an earlier book in its specific finales. If your fictional universe has the hero(es) face three or four different threats, it’ll make sense if they focus on some first (and thus eliminate the threat) and then move on to another instead of battling all at once. It might also give the individual conclusions more weight as elimination of one danger can be more satisfying end than a major battle that’ll not bring any decisive victory to either side (even if it causes a significant blow).
A temporary ending
As I mentioned, it’s well possible to leave some plot threads open. Especially in case they have the potential to grow in time – meaning both the author’s will to expand on them in the future and the fact said expansion will make sense in the actual fictional world.
The problem in this case is to make sure no major plot line is left open by the end of the story – or risk the wrath of readers. The most important factor of an ending (in this case, I mean the ending of the whole series unless it’s a standalone book) is that it should feel as one.
The solution is probably not simple. I’d say that leaving an open plotline is a difficult thing to do and even harder to master. Returning to a fictional world and resuming an unresolved plotline should feel organic for the fictional world. It should not be something that’ll leave the reader thinking ‘what the actual hell’ as soon as they open the book because resuming the series meant invalidating much of the previous books (or retconning them). And it should be done in a way that doesn’t leave the readers feeling like the end is not an actual end but merely “I’ll return to this someday” from the writer.
Before I wrap it up, I’ll link this post by M.L. Davis about writing the ending if you want to read more about this topic. She touches several aspects of endings, including believable/satisfying endings (from writer’s PoV, unlike my linked post) and epilogues (which I might cover in the future from my own PoV).
This is what I meant to say this time. I’ll welcome your opinions on the matter of writing endings so feel free to leave a comment.