So important is the end, that it can spoil an otherwise excellent novel. As a regular Amazon reviewer, I have read novels thinking, This is superb. I’m going to give this novel 5 stars. And then I’ve reached the end, and my potential review slips a star.
So how as a writer do we go about ensuring that our novel has a satisfying conclusion? For the key is in the word ‘satisfying’. It’s possible to write a novel having a rough idea of where you’re heading and when you get there it’s quite a different outcome. A novel is an organic thing. A writer may set out on the journey with the goal of exploring what it is he or she wants to say. The theme may be as yet unknown. Only by a satisfying end to the story will that theme reveal itself. Characters can change your mind. A pre-determined end turns out to be totally inappropriate. A story may have its true conclusion earlier than you had envisaged. Or too many strands are tied up neatly. You need to backtrack, finish the story at an earlier point, leaving some questions still open in the mind of a reader.
A novel may have a closed or an open ending. The end may be happy, sad, bittersweet or ironical. But certainly the end is determined by the way in which the main protagonist has pursued that over-arching desire which is the spine of the story. As Robert McKee says in “Story”, the protagonist may not achieve that desire, but ‘the flood of insight that pours from the gap delivers the hoped-for emotion… in a way we could never have foreseen.’
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you consider the end of your novel:
1) Is there a “deus ex machina” in your conclusion? Or has the ending evolved from the choices made by the main protagonist? Could this ending have occurred if the protagonist had not made those choices? And does the outcome depend solely upon the inner resources of the MP, which you have developed throughout the novel, folding them through the plot in a skilful weaving of characterisation and action?
2) Have you answered too many questions and tied up too many loose ends?
3) Have you said more than you needed to? Have you failed to respect the intelligence of the reader?
4) Is your ending a surprise? – in fact, does it top all the other surprises in the novel? or could the reader have predicted it?
5) Has the outcome been foreshadowed at all? Could the reader say, ‘Oh yes, of course, this makes sense because…”
Above all, we abhor a vacuum of meaning. The end of the story must have coherence, even if it’s tragic, or unhappy, or ironical, or shocking. Take some great endings as an example. John Fowles’ novel “The Collector” has a conclusion which penetrates the reader to the core, it is so chilling. And yet it has an organic relationship with the events of the novel and the development of the two characters. The end of “The Lord of the Rings”, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece, is one that on many levels satisfies, and yet I personally felt it went too far. For my satisfaction, I didn’t want to know about Frodo sailing away. I’d sooner it was left with the hobbits back in the Shire. But that of course is just my own personal response. One aspect of the ending which did greatly satisfy me was when Tolkien notes that the power of the Dark Lord is reduced and shrunk but not totally annihilated. It is still there, in a corner. It can be reawakened. I found that a profound recognition of the nature of evil in this world.
Finally, a very well-known happy ending is to be found in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. And yet we are still left with the irreduceable fact that Mrs Bennett and Lydia and Wickham will all continue to be problems in the future. The problems they pose will be of a slightly different nature as a result of the events of this story – but they’ll still be there, because they are inextricably bound up with those characters.
S.C.Skillman is an author and blogger. She writes mystery romance novels. Her debut, “Mystical Circles”, may be found on Kindle. The story “weaves romance and attraction with spiritual searching and emotional needs, powerful universal themes which affect us all”. To find out more about SC Skillman, visit her blog at http://www.scskillman.com to read posts on writing, books, travel, inspiration, art, culture and history.
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