What makes a good ending? What makes one satisfying? How do we differentiate between "ending" and "climax"???? And what about the aftermath -- that business after the shot if finally fired and the text goes on to explain how Sue returns to work and the assassin throws away his rifle and buys a little place on the beach.
What makes a climax? The big moment? The fight which resolves the problem of the story is an easy one to point out. But what else? The decision made. What else? The puzzle solved? The lovers coming together and vowing never to doubt the other again.
Those are all ways to climax/end, but what makes them satisfying?
[This message has been edited by arriki (edited March 27, 2008).]
Just a heads up that this post turned into an opinionated rant, so your mileage may vary by what I'm posting...
I read somewhere that a 'good' story takes you up the mountain, a 'good' climax lets you see the world, and a good 'ending' brings you back down. I believe in this case, a good ending will provide a sense of closure to the reader, who just devoting a non-refundable chunk of his or her life reading through the work.
Sometimes it's as simple as the antagonist "getting his" at the end. The very last sentance in the James Rollins book, "Ice Hunt", made the entire story worth it, as the token bad guy truly reaped what he sowed there at the very end. I liked the whole book, but the end sealed the deal with just the very last line.
Sometimes it's providing an answer to every question brought up during the course of the story. I point to Lovecraft, who while never fully explaining his exploits, will always tie everything into a nice and pretty bow by the end. The reader is well-acquianted (usually) with what the given horrors are and their implications, and by the end, the full consequences of the story come to bear (or, in very rare cases, the good guys triumph).
Often, I believe, the "climax" comes down to a simple triumph in stories, one force winning out over another. As a result, the "ending" then becomes an aftermath of what will happen in the new world. It should offer a peek of what the world would be like if the author had continued writing. Or, in the event of a possible continuation, tease the reader in some fashion that will leave them interested in what is to come.
I think it is a lot easier to define what makes the ending not satisfying then to say what is. In an attempt to be positive, I want the ending to be meaningful and deserved. If someone dies, I don't want them to die because a frozen turkey fell from the sky and landed on their head (it's ok as a beginning of the story, but not for the end). I also don't want it to end happily by luck (after suffering and trying to get things to work throughout the book, bob looks at the ground and sees the winning lottery ticket and so all his problems are solved). I also want enough things tied up that I feel like I got an ending (I am fine with the hero drawing his sword to go against impossible odds and the story ending there as long as enough other stuff is resolved- I thought that the ending of Angel that way was pretty awesome).
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A complicated question, and as always, I think the answer is, "it depends!"
My answer is this: A good ending is one that not only best fulfills the "promise" set up in the beginning, but spills outside the borders of the story and seeps into your life. Okay this is all poetic and flowery and not very practical.
I think I read somewhere in my many writing books that the ending should take the story to its inevitable, logical conclusion but without necessarily revealing it to the reader what will happen, but so when the reader is finished, he or she thinks, "Of course, it could have happened no other way!" and yet he/ she could not see it coming.
The quality of fulfilling a promise applies not only to plot (i.e. no dangling plot threads) but also to tone, atmosphere, character development and growth. So, an action packed story can't just fizzle out. A romance should consummate the relationship, or at least resolve it somehow (i.e. death of one person, falling out, etc.).
I'm personally a sucker for the bittersweet endings. I like thing that end happily but have some cost involved, whether its in loss of innocence, the pain of getting to that point, or a more real trade-off. I like books that leave me crying and trembling. The best books leave me in a near catatonic state for a few days as I sort of absorb everything that I'd read.
Fantastic endings that come to mind include The Return of the King (the book, not the movie), When We Were Real, Brightness Falls from the Air, Funeral Games, Bull from the Sea. All of these fulfill that bittersweetness I crave. Curiously some of these were predictable. Bull from the Sea[i] and [i]Funeral Games are both historical fiction so you know what's going to happen; nevertheless, they were imminently satisfying.
[This message has been edited by annepin (edited March 27, 2008).]
A good ending would have a lot in common with good sex, I would assume - you're only fully aware of the quality of it after it's all over, but the specific characteristics that made it particularly good can be hard to nail down, and repeating those same techniques won't necessarily ensure success a second time around.
That being said, I prefer endings that aren't all neat-and-tidy, summed up with the future of each character carefully tied up. I like a few loose ends, and a feeling of the great unknown beyond the last page of the book.
(That fist paragraph is covered by a Creative Commons License - Attribution + Noncommercial + NoDerivs)
Ultimately the only thing an ending needs is a sense that it completes the work. It should be closely related to the motives you have developed over the course of the novel. For instance, your example about the assain buying a ranch might work, but only if he had previously expressed a desire to get out of his line of work.
Finally, as a bit of a cryptical advice: There are two possible outcomes, victory and acceptance.
I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it certainly SEEMS deep.
Not a rant. A passionate plea for help understanding a very important aspect of storytelling.
Just “having all the questions of the story answered” doesn’t seem to be the insight I’m searching for. Is it just me or do any other people have this question – badly phrased – rolling around in their heads as they sit staring at what they’ve written while trying to figure out how to arrange the climax?
I’m trying to prime the pump by putting out ideas. Like, is the climax less than the whole scene? Can it be the one line that makes everything change. The detective announces who the killer is and why she did it.-- ???? Where as the Conan climax is plunging the sword into the beast magician’s throbbing body, grabbing the girl into a tight clinch and heaving a sigh of relief --???
quote:...trying to figure out how to arrange the climax?
Maybe I'm a little more simplistic, but I don't really see how you could "arrange" a climax. A climax is just what it is - the turning point of a story, the point of greatest interest to the reader, that you've built up to with every word typed to that point. A climax can be a whole scene. A climax can be multiple scenes, spread across multiple locations with many different characters involved. It can be one line. It can be any number of things, but it is the point you've been building towards.
Are you really looking at the climax of your story? Or the ending, as the title of the thread says?
I have no time for a real answer right now but I thought I would mention a surprisingly good ending came from that maven of bad endings, Stephen King. The ending to his seven book Dark Tower series surprised me with its elegant hopefullness. It brought the story back to its beginning but offered the hope (but no guarantee)that this time all would be different.
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I don't think I'm clear on what you're asking.
quote: Is it just me or do any other people have this question – badly phrased – rolling around in their heads as they sit staring at what they’ve written while trying to figure out how to arrange the climax?
Is the question your referring to here: "What makes a good ending?"
I do wonder this as I'm writing. As I'm crafting a story, I might write out several different endings. Then I think about how each ending will feel. For me, both the crafting and the judging of the ending are largely intuitive. That's why its difficult for me to offer a rubric here. Maybe if you gave me details as to your specific situation I could offer more insight.
quote:Like, is the climax less than the whole scene? Can it be the one line that makes everything change.
I'd say absolutely. It would be one hell of a line, though. But your climax isn't necessarily going to be the ending, though it can be. Also, we've talked here about "validation" (can't remember which thread, but if you do a search for it it should be there, probably in the last 90 days or so). So some endings fulfill the resolving of all plot threads, even emotional threads, but fail to provide the "whoopee!" moment.
Nancy Kress in Beginnings, Middles, and Ends offers this question as a litmus test that might work for some: If my protagonist were a radically different person, would this story still end the same way? The answer should be no. If it's yes, the events will seem unconvincing to the reader.
You might consider checking that book out. She has a pretty extensive analysis on endings, including a look into climaxes leading into denoument, and into endings. James Scott Bell does a descent job in Plot and Structure as well.
Is this info at all helpful? Does it address what you're wanting to know?
[This message has been edited by annepin (edited March 28, 2008).]
quote:If my protagonist were a radically different person, would this story still end the same way? The answer should be no. If it's yes, the events will seem unconvincing to the reader.
I am unsure about this comment, and I assume it is because it isn't fully explained.
Stories are often about a character's journey and how they change. If you have a different character, you have a different start point(emotionally); they will face obstacles in a different way and so will be changed differently--make different choices--and consequently must have a different ending. (Sorry for long sentence.)
I must agree with your earlier statement. Endings must fulfill the contract of the story in some way. I also agree that it is intuitive. I read my story and think about what endings fit...usually there are a few, some obvious, some not. I then select the one that improves the story the most. It's a judgment call in the same way as choosing which word you are gong to use next when writing prose.
Finally get some people to read it with the specific intent of of commenting on whether the end works. Any reader can tell you that, the more the merrier. If they all say it is great (and they are honest--read people from Hatrack not your Mum) your are sorted. If not change it.
[This message has been edited by skadder (edited March 28, 2008).]
For me, the climax depends on resolving the tension. The success of the climax depends on the amount of tension resolved, which must depend, in large part, on the amount of tension built up. So, if I feel that my climax is ineffective, those are the two things I have to ask: Did I build up enough tension in the first place, and did I resolve enough of it? And I'm using "tension" in a broad sense, here; it's not restricted to "suspense."
That's the climax, not the ending. The resolution of the tension is rarely enough to make a satisfying ending (though there are times . . . ). There are any number of ways to make a satisfying ending (and I wish I knew them). The "validation" thread mentioned by annepin is Have you noticed lately . . . ?, also started by arriki on a question of endings.
One method I've found that often works is to resolve some story thread that the reader didn't expect to get resolved. This is what happens in the majority (though not all) of those stories where people say they like how the author "brought it back to the beginning," but it happens elsewhere also, since the resolved issue needn't be placed at the start of the story.
But clearly there are other ways, too. KDW's example, when she introduced the "validation" word, was the award ceremony at the end of Star Wars. The climax was blowing up the Death Star, but if the movie had ended there it would have been sorely disappointing.
skadder, I think you understand perfectly. You said, "Stories are often about a character's journey and how they change. If you have a different character, you have a different start point(emotionally); they will face obstacles in a different way and so will be changed differently--make different choices--and consequently must have a different ending." And that's exactly what she meant. If you have a different character, the story, by necessity, will be different. The question is a way of testing the strength of the cause and effect in the story.
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Provided of course, that it is a character story. Although I suppose different characters will deal with the same obstacles in different ways as well.
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Yeah, I thought about that too. Hence my qualification, "might work for some". Kress is pretty big on character driven stories. I came to the same conclusion you did, that even in event, idea, or milieu stories, you've got specific characters that will act in specific ways, and focusing on those elements doesn't mean you can short circuit realistic, active characters. For instance, if you swapped Bilbo and Pippin's roles, the saga probably would not turn out the same way.
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How about an ending that wraps up the themes of the story in a relatively short space of manuscript? Tolkien wrapped up The Lord of the Rings with a summarization and in about two pages, roughly...
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If only the film-makers had followed his lead....
Edit: On second thought, that's just not true. The entire restoration of the shire is a symbolic restoration of natural order. The real story ends when the ring is destroyed, but it continues for a while after words.
[This message has been edited by smncameron (edited March 28, 2008).]
See, this is where I disagree. Even though LotR is largely a milieu story, it's also a powerful character story. The scouring of the shire and its resolution is important for character growth. In a way, it's validation, yes, but I would argue the character arcs aren't complete until the moment the four of them ride back into the shire and realize how they've been shaped by their experience. This is only possible when they return to their origins and compare themselves to the rest of the hobbits. So, the plot reaches its conclusion with the vanquishing of Sauron but the hobbits' story is not yet complete, imo.
(okay, now I swear i'm going to stop clicking around to see if anyone's posted anything new, and write!)
[This message has been edited by annepin (edited March 28, 2008).]
I believe the word that everyone is looking for here is denouement - what happens after the climax. Well, not including falling action, which would classically take place after the climax. Speaking strictly in terms of LOTR, there is essentially no falling action - after the climax of the destruction of the ring & the defeat of Sauron, the only falling action would be the rescue of Frodo & Sam. Everything else is denouement.
Edited to add: I'm a little confused about what we're discussing here exactly. Climaxes? Endings? Character/plot arcs? Bueller?
[This message has been edited by Wolfe_boy (edited March 28, 2008).]
Well, you're kind of mixing terms here. You're not asking "what are the differences between a Toyota Corrola and a Honda Civic?", you're asking "What are the differences between a Honda Civic and an M1A1 Abrams Tank?" Still, I'll take a crack at it...
Ending - where the book comes to an end. Typically identified by the words The End.
Climax - Point of highest interest or action in the story. In a classical sense, it is the point at which the main character can not go back from, and is compelled to act out the rest of the story. Ex: In the first Godfather movie, according to the classical definition, the climax could be interpreted as the scene in the hospital, when Michael decided to join his family business and protect Vito from the assassins coming for his father. Everything else afterward would be falling action.
Denouement - The portion of a book where you find out what is happening to everyone after the climax and falling action have occured. Refer to my last post for an example of Denouement.
Closure - Not really a literary term, more of a psycholigical term. Essentially, it is the search for a lack of ambiguity, about finding answers to all of the questions you are asking. In a book, it would be seeing the finality of a character arc, from uncaring to sympathetic, from cold-hearted to caring. It would usually be experienced in the climax, falling action, and denouement, where your story arc is running itself out to completion. As a note, closure is not necessarily the best way to go - sometimes a bit of ambiguity is a good thing, so long as the majority of the plot is tied up.
Falling Action - The portion of the book after the climax, but before the denouement. Again, referring to the first Godfather movie, the falling action is everything after Michael sides with his father - dealing with Carlo, the baptism scene, the death of Vito, all of it, if we consider the plot arc of the Godfather to be about Michael's role in the family business. In LOTR, the falling action is Aragorn's response to the crumbling of Barad-dur and the black gate, and then the rescue of Sam & Frodo from the lava. The remainder of the book is all denouement, since it relates to finishing the tale of the characters and not in any direct relation to the plot that the climax was built into.
I don't know if that rambling bit makes a lot of sense. Personally, I think you're worrying too much about this topic - if you've read a book, you have read and experienced all of these things. Write your story and, through experience, you will also write these things if they are required.
I DO write my own stories. I’m not just talking about writing as an excuse for not doing writing.
Is there some reason though we can’t discuss writing and storytelling here? Ask questions about important aspects? Yes, I’ve read books on writing. I have three shelves of them and I find that few of them are very helpful.
There is a lot of confusion in terminology. Crisis. Climax, Denouement. Closure. Ending. Your listing, I’m sorry, really did not clear up the confusion for me.
Beyond that, aren’t there, in general terms, some limited number of ways to end a novel? Of course there are an infinite (?) number of possibilities, but in real life, it seems there are at least some broad categories of endings that keep being repeated over and over because they are easy or because they work well.
Restricting composition to “intuitive” – doesn’t that mean inventing the wheel over and over again?
There ARE gifted writers in the world, then there are others, like me, who don’t have a muse on speed dial and need help, guidelines, insights. A pair of glasses to put on when looking at (in this case) endings to see past the words to the ideas and structures that work. Those that work and why. Those that don’t work and why. To learn and draw on that knowledge when writing my own stories.
Is there no one on this board interested in discussing this kind of writing idea?
Perhaps I am being negative and dismissive, and I'm really not trying to be - it's just that the questions being posed are pretty pie in the sky, from my perspective.
quote:There is a lot of confusion in terminology. Crisis. Climax, Denouement. Closure. Ending. Your listing, I’m sorry, really did not clear up the confusion for me.
Very well - I didn't really help you. Why don't you tell us what you see these as, and we can help to correct you, or validate your assumptions. You are saying you're confused, but not what is confusing you. That will help to generate some discussion.
quote:Restricting composition to “intuitive” – doesn’t that mean inventing the wheel over and over again?
I suppose. I guess I am an intuitive writer, but it doesn't mean that I don't think about things like this. In my novel, I stressed for days about how to end the story - I thought I needed a final chapter where my main character returned home and the changes he felt in himself would be put into practice in his real life. Maybe these changes led to his downfall, allowing too much compassion for his enemies. Maybe it leads to positive changes in his life, and to those around him. In the end, I felt intuitively that any sort of additions like this were beyond the scope of my story. We had witnessed already the character arc I intended to show, I had finished the falling action, and faced with a possibly lengthy denouement, I opted instead to end in a rather ambiguous way, and went out with a strong line instead. I did think about it quite a bit, but in the end my instincts as a writer, as well as my intimate knowledge of the story I was writing told me that I didn't need a lengthy denouement.
Intuition isn't about having a mse on speed dial, it's about trusting your instincts and being bold about telling your story. Why don't you outline the particular situation your in with a story and we might be able to shed some light on the issue you're having. Or, is all of this just free-thinking and brainstorming about a topic that interests you (which is certainly a valid direction for this thread)?
[This message has been edited by Wolfe_boy (edited March 28, 2008).]
quote:Is there no one on this board interested in discussing this kind of writing idea?
You're right, you outed me. I'm just a monkey with a keyboard slamming out gibberish.
Seriously, did you even bother reading my posts? I spent a lot of time and effort trying to respond to your questions, offering insight, and reflecting on my own work. To have you blow it off is demeaning and hurtful, at best.
I will continue posting and responding to questions here because I actually do like thinking about and discussing writing. However, I at least have the decency to read through and consider other people's posts since they took the time to write them, and I feel I might learn something from them. But I have to say, your attitude makes me largely unsympathetic to your struggles.
As for Kathleen's suggestion, I find it intriguing. The problem I see, though, is how can we properly gauge how they complete they are if we don't know the rest of the story?
Well, we could start with published stuff, and look at those endings--see if/how they work.
quote: At last the three companions turned away, and never again looking back, they rode slowly homewards; and they spoke no word to one another until they came back to the Shire, but each had great comfort in his friends on the long grey road.
At last they rode over the Downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in and set him in his chair, and put little Eleanor upon his lap.
If we subscribe to the western idea of story having beginning, middle, and end – three parts, then “the end” is not merely the last 13 lines. There is some break, some place where we can physically draw a line and say, “this is where the end, begins.” Where the developmental stage is finished and the results of that play out ??????
Does a clearly defined ending part make for a better story?
Or…..does it really mean these days where stories can have more than one storyline – does the end mean the end part of a particular storyline and a novel like Jack NcDevitts' DEEPSIX has three ending parts? Nested do loops of storylines??? confusing the issue of what constitutes the end part of the novel?
From your reference to nested do-loops I'm going to assume you're a computer programmer.
Writing stories is an art. There isn't an algorithm, and it seems to me that since you have a sadly low regard for the discussion so far, that's what you must be looking for. (If it isn't, perhaps you could tell us what you do want.)
So there isn't a break, a place where the end starts. (If there were, it would be very unsatisfying.) The ending will be intertwined with the climax and the middle, and perhaps foreshadowed in the beginning.
The terms we use--like ending, climax, denouement, closure and falling action--don't enable us to write rules for handling these story elements. They help writers to discuss--like in this thread--what works and what doesn't. So, for example, we can say that the ending to the film version of LOTR is unsatisfying because it omits the denouement that was so satisfying in the book.
In this discussion I think several good points have been made. Wolfe-boy gave an excellent set of definitions of the terms, rickfisher pointed out that the climax resolves tension that has been built in the beginning and middle of the story, while skadder and annepin made reference to how good stories are about a character's journey and change.
Here's how I'd answer what I understand to be your question:
For me (and it's not true for all genres, literary fiction for example) a good story starts out by setting a problem for the MC. The problem is caused by a villain. As the MC chases the villain and all sorts of nasty things happen, tension increases. We want the MC to Get the villain. The climax is their final fight and it releases the tenion--we get a satisfying adreneline rush. That satisfaction is "closure", because the problem is solved and the villain brought to justice.
But during the story we've met several other characters. We care about them and their subsidiary story lines. In the denouement we see how they have changed as a result of their journeys, releasing those tensions too though not necessarily in a climactic fashion, and giving us closure on those questions too.
After the climax the falling action and the denouement will be intertwined, easing us down from an emotional high.
For example, in a Bond movie, the climax is always a big fight between Bond and the villain. The closing action shows us the villain's ship sinking and Bond getting away in the nick of time. The denouement tidies up the loose ends. Since the threat to the world has been eliminated we see the world return to normal. Bond gets the girl and, with some joke or other usually at the expense of the establishment, shows us how this journey didn't change him at all, and he'll be back soon to fight another arch-villain--so it's a hint of a beginning, as well.