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A Tale of Two Endings

kjmiller

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I give myself rules, but I don’t have a rule about my endings.



My science fiction play (which I hope gets critiqued here) is a situation where I didn’t find the ending until I was deep into writing and re-writing it. (I’m open to changing this into a piece of prose fiction. I’m NOT open into changing it into a screenplay. Writing a screenplay is the best way of creating something that nobody is ever going to see.)



My current science fiction story in progress is a case in which the first thing that I thought of was the ending. It has no plot similarity with “The Lottery” but I think of it as “The Lottery” method: Drop hints along the way of the shock ending, get to the shock ending—AND STOP.



Your thoughts & comments?
 

RK Capps

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I'm personally not keen on endings that just "stop," though there is an audience out there for them. My reasoning lies with storytelling science. As writers write their way through a story, sinking their protagonist into deeper and deeper hot water, some chemical releases in the brain (you've probably heard this, so sorry for preaching to the choir). By the climax, this chemical needs release. Hence, the denouement. And that's why, while once upon a time, I considered the shock ending; I don't anymore.
 

Barbara

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Apologies in advance, I'm having a wordy day. So here goes.

By STOP / shock ending, do you mean in a 'cliff-hanger' way? Or do you mean an ending with 'a twist'? Or a powerful scenario that makes readers gasp?

I don't think cliff-hanger endings work so well if they just stop, esp if they're a shocker. A cliff-hanger ending which leaves story threads open, and which doesn't answer the questions raised in the book would (for me at least) feel very unsatisfying. When I read, I like the character's journey to be complete at the end in some way, or at least most of it. By that I mean, they've either found or lost that which they've set out to find or do. If not, it feels like having a powercut during a good movie. Much cursing follows. Readers have spent hours following a story. We've engaged with the characters, lived their lives, and then to be left hanging would just

I'm also generally not keen on endings which leave us with a shock twist, as in 'oh, by the way, it was all a dream', or 'hey he was mad and imagined things', or 'he had multiple personalities and the other one did it'. The End. It can feel cheap, or lazy, or contrived, done for the sake of it. (I'm thinking 'Chalk Man', and the TV series Lost -although Lost's ending wasn't all that twisty as I saw it coming)

But a story which ends fast with a powerful scenario (which may be shocking and rattle the bones) is what I often do find very satisfying - one of those endings that shakes you and stays with you, even if it means everyone dies and the word explodes, then gets out fast. But again, only if all the important strands are complete and the character is complete. A shock ending like this would (for me) still have to be a natural progression built on what's gone before and not pulled out of the left. A fast, shocking end is fine, but I think the story itself needs to be complete.

And I do like endings where we don't necessarily know what happens next (I'm thinking The Italian Job). It works, because everything is rounded off. The characters arrived at this point for a good reason, and everyone's arc is complete. We don't need to know whether they live or die, we want to, but we don't need to.

I wrote my last novel backwards. I had the ending first. The ending is slightly open in a sense that everything has been rounded off (apart from one strand with a character who needs to come back in a sequel, should I ever write one), but we don't know what's next for the MC. He has arrived at a shocking point. He did so through his own downfall, his own silly fault, and he had his reckoning. Then I ended it quick, and I have left it open, so that readers won't know how he moves on from here.

I'm saying all this above in relation to novel writing. But I think it also applies to plays. I'm a (resting for the sake of writing) actor and have been in many theatre productions. In the theatre, it can work to just stop (I have seen plays like that), esp if it's more experimental, quirky, but unless it's done well, it still risks having the audience look around baffled and wondering 'erm, is this the end?' when the houselights come up. With a book, you can see the page numbers dwindle towards an end, but with a performance it can be more startling. It still needs some sort of feel of completion.

I think there's a lot to be said for 'starting late and ending early', but in my view the story still has to be complete.

But like you say, rules ...

If something works, well, then it works, and sod the rules.

Anyway, this is my longwinded way of saying: write it, and then get feedback.
 
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CageSage

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I don't like endings that leave me confused or not knowing what I need to in order to close off the story. Even with trilogies, I like each book to reach a satisfying conclusion, even if I know it's not 'the end' of the bigger story.
Mosley wrote a story where the end was a sudden stop, but the readers knew what happened - they didn't know if it was the death of the character, though it was likely, so it played on their minds and he got heaps of feedback asking what happened until he finally put the result in a different story.

In the end, it's all about the audience/readers (even stage plays have readers before they get produced). Ask: will the open loop in their minds be closed by the ending, whether abrupt or not? Or will they be throwing tomatoes?
 

E G Logan

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I give myself rules, but I don’t have a rule about my endings.



My science fiction play (which I hope gets critiqued here) is a situation where I didn’t find the ending until I was deep into writing and re-writing it. (I’m open to changing this into a piece of prose fiction. I’m NOT open into changing it into a screenplay. Writing a screenplay is the best way of creating something that nobody is ever going to see.)



My current science fiction story in progress is a case in which the first thing that I thought of was the ending. It has no plot similarity with “The Lottery” but I think of it as “The Lottery” method: Drop hints along the way of the shock ending, get to the shock ending—AND STOP.



Your thoughts & comments?
 

E G Logan

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"Drop hints along the way of the shock ending, get to the shock ending—AND STOP."

I go for that myself, very strongly. But then I often write ghost stories, where the shock full-stop ending is one of the conventions. Also in psychological thrillers and horror.

The final chapter that many authors feel compelled to add that unwinds all the bits and pieces and ties them up in a neat bow has always struck me as unnecessary. "And Bloggs the butler married Jeannie the parlourmaid, Katie's sister went to Australia and the blacksmith's two dogs had puppies that were the image of Buster the beagle..."

Here is the previous advice I was given from Litopians (no names) in answer to a question about Full-Stop endings. In brief, they said: 'No, you don't do that; what you do is this' –

A: Biggest bang needs to come shortly before the end, then we need 'resolution'/quietus, and it won't fizzle out so much as glide out.
B: Use the subplot resolutions to build to the final showdown, use the final showdown to demonstrate the story arc and character growth, use the denouement to show that life goes on.
C: SATISFACTORY RESOLUTION is with the big question answered, with the characters moving forward, with a hint at what their lives may be on the next journey, with the satisfaction of completion but not ending.

I still write Full-Stop endings.
 
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