I’m wrapping up my Writers Workshop series with a focus on a great ending. I’ve been using The Godfather as an example and this post is no different. I wrote a post about how the critical the beginning of a book is (read Writers Workshop – A Great Beginning And The Godfather) because you have to hook your readers in. A great ending is critical as well, as you want to leave your reader wanting more (especially if you’ve written a series), and you want your reader left with a satisfied feeling. And you want to…
Writers Workshop – Tie Up Loose Ends
Whether you write a happy or a sad ending, you want to make sure that you tie up loose ends. Things need to be resolved. I’m sure we writers can come up with books or movies where we reached the end and thought wait, what about that? We can also come up with scenarios where leaving a question seems okay. For me, if a question is left unanswered, it had better be something minor to the plot, or something that will clearly be addressed in a sequel. For example, I liked some of Patricia Cornwell’s earlier books. But then she started writing endings that seemed rushed. The plot would be flowing along and suddenly everything is wrapped up in a page or two. Only plot points were not resolved and too many questions remained unanswered. It just didn’t feel right as a reader.
Writers Workshop – Speaking of Loose Ends
An unresolved ending can be tough. Using myself as an example, I wrote Nephilim Genesis of Evil with an open end, with what happens next? I originally did not intend to write more, but the way the novel ends lends itself to a sequel. But that wasn’t my intent. I had written an ending where Rory and Anna (the main characters) return to Taylor Crossing and deal with the Nephilim (read the book and this will make sense :)). But that ending didn’t work. Once Rory and Anna had left Taylor Crossing, anything after that felt anticlimactic. What is interesting is that some readers don’t like the open end. I understand this. Some people need things wrapped up. Others don’t want to have the ending of a story drag on. It’s up to you as the writer to figure out the sweet spot here. Is your ending satisfying with an open end? Or do you need to wrap things up? Either way, make sure that your ending doesn’t drag on.
Writers Workshop – Avoid Deux ex Machina
Deux ex Machina means god from the machine or machinery of the gods. The Greek phrase means that the hands of the gods were at play, that humans had no choice in the matter. Think of a plot point that is suddenly resolved by inserting a new character or event that doesn’t make sense. If you write an ending that has your main character not actively playing a role in the action at the end, your reader will feel cheated. If you insert something (for instance, a character that suddenly resolves the plot line) into the story with no explanation of how it got there, your reader will again feel cheated.
Writers Workshop – Something Must Change
One thing you don’t want to do is reach the ending of your novel and find that nothing’s changed. Readers want to see characters develop, and development doesn’t occur if there is no change in the character(s) or the circumstances around the character(s). If nothing happens, the reader is left with a why did I read this? feeling. The Godfather is a stellar example of this.
Think about Michael Corleone at the beginning of the novel (and movie). He’s the one who is not going into the family business. He’s the one that the Don wants to see do something else. And yet, as the novel progresses and we see Michael’s character change, we see that it’s inevitable that Michael will take over the family business. Now, after all this build-up, we would feel cheated if Michael didn’t assume the role of Godfather at the end of the story.
Writers Workshop – A Twist At The End
I love books that have a great twist at the end, something that makes me think wow, that was cool. In order to pull this off, you as the writer must set things up throughout your novel so that the reader buys the twist ending. It must be believable, not something that comes out of the blue or came out of nowhere, where the reader is thinking wait, how could that happen? That’s where foreshadowing and dropping clues comes into play. Done well, you’ll have a satisfied reader. If not, the reader may be throwing your book across the room, never to read your books again.
Writers Workshop – The Oomph Factor
Back to The Godfather. The novel has one of the best endings I’ve ever read. After all that has happened, how Michael Corleone has been pulled into the family business, and how he accepts his role, we see the loose ends wrapped up. And we see Kay, Michael’s wife, struggling with what is happening. Michael has lied to her about his role in Carlo Rizzi’s death. Michael is not the man she married. But Kay ends up accepting this, in part because of her conversion to Catholicism. It allows her to continue, knowing what she knows. Here’s the last line of the novel:
Then with a profound and deeply willed desire to believe, to be heard, as she had done every day since the murder of Carlo Rizzi, she said the necessary prayers for the soul of Michael Corleone.
If you read the book, the impact of this sentence is huge. We now see what the Godfather’s wife must’ve felt, and why her faith was so important. And we see Kay assuming this faith as well, not only for her own guilt in knowing what happened, but for her husband as well. This was a wow ending for me. No one is getting away with anything. There are consequences for everyone, even if the consequences are eternal.
The movie ending also has an oomph factor. We see Michael, in the Don’s office, with someone coming to pay his respects. Just like we saw at the beginning of the movie, someone is bowing down, kissing the Don’s hand. Michael has officially become the next Godfather. It’s gut-wrenching because we know what Michael could’ve been had he made different choices. And we know what he’s getting into now.
Writers Workshop – A Couple of Tips
Do remember genre. In some genres, you cannot mess with the ending (romance is one – think happily ever after).
Don’t bore your reader. However you end your story, don’t write on and on without a point. Resolve things and be done.
Those are some thoughts on writing a great ending. What do you think makes a great ending?