Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Word About Endings

They don't have to be happy. They just have to make the hours I've put into the movie, book, television show, etc. worth it.

My husband and I watched a movie last night that both of us were really into. We were invested in the characters and we wanted to see what would happen to them. When the final scene came and NOTHING was resolved, both of us pleaded out loud, "Please don't let that be the end!" But it was the end. And we were frustrated. I won't be recommending the movie to any of my friends, even though I liked the rest of it.

Endings are important. They're the last thing your readers will read. I have a really bad memory when it comes to books or movies that I saw years ago. I might forget the entire plot, but I'll remember the ending (especially if it was really good or really bad).

I'm feeling a lot of pressure to end my current WIP well. I love the characters and I want their final moments on the page to be both surprising and satisfying. I know it's going to take some work to get it right, but it'll be worth it.

Does it bother you when a book or movie ends without resolution (or when the resolution isn't satisfying)? If you've enjoyed the rest of the story can you overlook a bad ending?

Oh, and if you haven't entered Karen's awesome Valentine's Day contest (in which she is giving away books AND chocolate) please do so! You won't regret it. Karen is the coolest.

43 comments:

~Jamie said...

See, I totally disagree. I am all about the happy endings :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I don't care if it's happy or sad as long as it ends well. I saw a movie yesterday and when it ended, the entire theatre (consisting of no more than 10 people, which should have warned us) said, "Oh, come on!"

Valerie Geary said...

Mmmm... I can overlook most unresolved endings. In fact, I kind of love them. Good unresolved endings give me shivers. Maybe that's why I lean more toward literary fiction than anything else. :D I wish I could think of an example right now... Oh!! The Handmaid's Tale. That was pretty unresolved... but bloody brilliant. And Atonement. Yup... love love love. So... I'm weird. Whatever. :P

Natalie said...

Hmm Valerie, that's a good one. I liked the ending of Atonement too. I'm not sure I'd call it unresolved though, just tragic and kind of painfully ironic. You knew where everyone ended up, even though it wasn't where we thought they'd end up. On second thought, maybe it was kind of unresolved. :)

I guess my thing is I want to see the loose ends tied up. I want an ENDING. Otherwise, I'm annoyed.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I want to be satisfied by the end. I don't think that means everything is resolved but it has to leave me feeling it completed some sort of arc, that lessons were learned or change took place.
I think that's why I'm having trouble finishing my novel, I'm so worried about a really satisfying ending that I stall.

Anissa said...

I know everyone says you have to start strong, that the beginning is the most important. I don't know. I think the ending is key. I forgive a slow start (usually), but never a poor ending. Like you said, it's the last thing people read (or see if it's a movie), it needs to be perfect. Word of mouth is so important for the success of a novel. You can bet I don't give good word if the ending falls flat.

Stephanie Thornton said...

A bad ending is one of the main things that will cause me to never pick up a particular author again. There's nothing worse than investing hours into a book only to have no resolution or to have the story peeter out.

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

OMG yes I need resolution! Im writing my ending right now too so Im hyper aware of this issue-am I resolving every issue? Have I wrapped up every storyline? IS my ending going to be satisfying? This topic needs to be covered a lot more I think-we spend so much time obsessing over begining when really its the end that counts.

Sandy Shin said...

Resolution is a must for me -- not the neatly-tied-with-a-bow-on-top sort of resolution, but at least some sense of closure, with the main conflicts resolved. Granted, I am all for happily-ever-after endings, but that doesn't mean I dislike open endings as long as that's the natural stopping point.

Endings do make a story for me. A sloppy ending can definitely ruin an otherwise good book/movie.

Sarah Skilton said...

I read somewhere that good endings are both inevitable and surprising. That's my favorite kind I think. And tough to pull off!

Thomas Taylor said...

Nicola Morgan has some fascinating and surprising things to say about endings here:

http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2010/01/end-is-nigh.html

I would recommend everyone here to read this post. I found it very reassuring!

Jemi Fraser said...

I much prefer a good ole happy ending, but I can be satisfied as long as the ending resolves the main issues. Hate it when they leave you hanging without giving you some idea.

Although... I love The Giver & it leaves you hanging... Hmmm :)

Matthew Delman said...

I think endings where nothing is resolved can work, but the burden to make it freakishly awesome is ratcheted up to eleventy-billion.

The Giver is a perfect example -- the ending doesn't resolve anything, but it serves the purpose to get people talking. Which is really, in my opinion, the only way an unresolved ending can work.

I agree however that, in most cases, I want some loose ends to be tied up into a neat little package. Not all storylines have to come to a close, but most of them should.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Yes, it bothers me. I'm usually not the tie it all up in a pretty bow type, but I don't like to be left hanging and regretting the end has arrived without resolution.
~ Wendy

Aubrie said...

Yes, the ending has to have some sense of resolution for me.

Endings that I didn't like: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Loved the book, hated the ending) by Carrie Ryan. The Road (loved the book hated the ending) by Cormac McCarthy.

Vonna said...

A recent MG book that I loved (I won't say which one because I hate spoilers, but I'll admit it was an award winner) ended without resolution. At first I was distraught-- I wanted a happy ending! But I have thought about that book ever since I finished it. Isn't that what art should make us do?

Jonathon Arntson said...

I honestly find solace in stories without endings. I suppose it helps me cope with the never-ending monotony of my own life to know that their story continues to be unknown, and so does mine.

Linda Kage said...

I think I only remember endings if they're bad. But, yes, I agree. It's majorly important to tie up all the loose ends on a story.

Natalie said...

Okay, so maybe I don't need resolution. I loved the ending of THE GIVER too. But at least in the Giver you know he gets away. It's a hopeful ending even though it's not totally resolved.

And Thanks for the link Thomas. My favorite part was: "Do what feels right for your book - someone's going to hate you, whatever you do..." I also liked the bit about how endings should be different based on genre.

I write MG, so I need "greater optimism, clarity, and resolution." Excellent resource.

Here it is again:
http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2010/01/end-is-nigh.html

VR Barkowski said...

At the end of a book, I want to feel as though the characters go with their lives. But happy or sad, a resolution of the main conflict(s) is a must.

I think the ending of THE GIVER is perfect. The major conflict is resolved and the ending is hopeful even though the reader is left to wonder what happens to characters. This is exactly why those characters stay with us. A happily ever after would allow the reader to dismiss the characters without a second thought.

Sarah Forgrave said...

A resolution at the end is crucial for me, whether happy or sad. If it's a wonderful book with a strong ending, I'll recommend it to friends. If it's a wonderful book with an unresolved ending, I'm not as likely to recommend it.

Diane said...

It is trickier to have a not happy ending and please the critics. It can be done but seldomly. Most people want the everything tied up happy ending.... unless there is a sequel, then that will drive them to a happy crazy...

Hope you'll join me for how "Cupid Shot Me" day at my bog www.dianeestrella.com :O)

Renee Collins said...

I'm with you. I don't mind, and can even quite enjoy sad or tragic endings. But I hate those unresolved I'm going to make you figure it out on your own types of endings. Grrr. Those make me mad. I'm like, No! You just told me the whole story, why should I have to do all the work for the most important part?!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

You know I love a happy ending. And I already ranted in NYC about the crappy ending of a certain book they just made into a movie. But I won't publicly mention it. I agree, if I'm investing my time and emotions the author better give me a good ending. Doesn't have to be happy, but it better be good.

laurel said...

I can live with ambiguity, if the writer has done the work of showing the characters have changed in some manner, or there's a resonant take-away idea or theme. What I can't stand is when the author/director can't live with ambiguity and goes on and on and on rewrapping and rewrapping up.

The movie AI had this problem in spades. Spielberg pulled out about three too many incredibly stupid attempts at resolution when he should have gone for the resonant ending, with the boy who wants to be real realizing what he wants is impossible. It could have been a great cautionary tale against ever creating eternal children.

Mariah Irvin said...

You must be reading my mind or something. I was discussing the end of my book with a friend today and she said that it irritated her, but she loved it at the same time. If she's talking about it, I guess I did something right!

Tamika: said...

Endings are everything. I need closure and fulfillment after investing countless hours watching lives unravel and spiral out of control. People need to see that hope springs eternal.

L. T. Host said...

I prefer happy endings, but I totally get (and agree with) your point! I hate endings that leave you hanging. There better be a sequel, and it better be darn good.

Jody Hedlund said...

I agree 100 percent, Natalie. We can forgive middle mishaps, but when it comes to the ending, I want a homerun!

Erica said...

Oh yes! It does bother me, however if they plan it in a way that has some satisfaction, I will take an ending with loose ends... but it has to be really good.

Great post ;o)

Elana Johnson said...

Oh yeah. The ending is important. And I don't care if it's happy or sad or unresolved or whatever. It just has to make sense. It has to arrive in a place that is flawless, almost as if the author wasn't around to write it and the story just played out. Which is why The Giver is so masterful.

Janna Qualman said...

So true, Natalie. Well said.

Terri Tiffany said...

Hate bad endings!!! UGH. makes me hate the whole book and author too. Ohhh, I'm harsh but that's how I feel!

Nicole Ducleroir said...

The ending of a story or movie is super important in my eyes. If the ending left me happily guessing what came next, that's okay. But if I'm left with more questions than answers -- I see red!

Be sure to visit my blog today -- I've sent you a new award :))

Heather Sunseri said...

Ending are so important! And so hard to get exactly how you want them when writing. I agree, though, an ending is so important to make our readers want to read our writing again.

Lisa and Laura said...

There is nothing worst than a crappy ending! I don't need everything wrapped up in a pretty little bow, but I do need some sense of closure.

Lisa and Laura said...

I have to comment as well because just recently this same thing happened to me. I saw "The Painted Veil" when I was pregnant and loved it. Not sure if it had to do with the hormones, but I remembered the movie in a totally different way than what it actually was. Anyways, just a few months ago, I convinced my husband to watch it because of this supposed twist ending that was to die for. Um...never happened. I watched the movie on the edge of my seat hoping, praying for something to happen at the end that would change things, but it never came. He no longer trusts me and I don't blame him. Damn hormones.

Tabitha Bird said...

if the ending sucked then the whole thing might as well have been crap! Ends need to leave me feeling fed in some way. I don't like books that leave me hungry. there are way too many things in life already leaving me hungry. I don't read to be unfed!

Patti said...

I think an ending either needs to leave you thinking, excited to read more, or happy.

It can be sad too, but I really have to be in the mood for those ones.

Mary Campbell said...

I love a happy ending, but I'm okay with a resolved ending as long as the ending isn't horrible. I'm personally going to be a happy ending writer.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

There has to be SOME kind of resolve, even if it's not sugary-sweet-happy. Your experience reminds me of the movie with Will Smith in which he gives away his organs to various people, then kills himself by sitting in a tub of jelly fish and is poisoned. I can't even remember the name of it! But...it started out really interesting, dramatic, etc., but ick! The ending was just really disturbing and I was left with a feeling of darkness, and I felt I'd been lured there by a hint of light, so I felt very deceived. (You've got me riled up now!) So, yes, endings are important. Sometimes it takes a while to come up with the right one, though, Natalie. You might need to ruminate on it a while, because an ending needs to tie up a lot of different elements, and sometimes you need the tortoise part of your brain to sit on that a while before it comes to you. Good luck!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

P.S. Ooops! First he donates his organs in writing, then kills himself (he's going to die anyway, but still...moral implications here). I don't want to freak anyone out, lest they think he gave his organs away before dying. !!!

Sara McClung ♥ said...

I can't overlook bad endings. Even if the rest of the book/movie/show/whatever was phenomenal... bad endings leave a sour taste in my mouth every time I think back on it...

I'm with you though, they don't necessarily have to be happy (though I DEFINITELY prefer when they are!!)... they just have to be worthy of the story! (For instance, one of my favorite movies is Love Story...)