I read that a great ending should be “surprising but inevitable”. That's a tall order! To have the whole story leading to that inevitable conclusion, but not be predictable. Wow!
However, I've seen (and read…ah, let's be honest; mostly it's “seen”) several great endings that were just that. The ones where you slap yourself in the forehead and say “Of course! It HAD to happen this way!”
My favorites are the ones where I NOTICED the hints earlier, and then dismissed them. As a pretty devoted movie guy, I will sometimes notice and then dismiss something early on, something that doesn't quite fit. Recently that happened, and I dismissed something as just “bad acting” or “a flaw in the script” and it turned out to be the key to the whole ending. How great that is!
An actual example escapes me at the moment, sorry. It's late.
Anywho, you can try to achieve “surprising but inevitable” by approaching the Plot/Theme or Want/Need pieces I talked about last week. In the ending, the Plot and Theme meet for the last time and the character uses what they've learned in the Theme part of the story to win the day. It's something they could never have done at the beginning of the story, without the character growth they experienced throughout the tale.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on endings:
The “Catch Up” ending
This is what we talked about on a recent Quackcast. The story starts with a piece from later in the adventure, then goes back to show us how things got to that point. The book Ghost Story starts with a strange series of scenes with a man traveling around with a little girl, and tying her to her hotel bed before they go to sleep. It's very creepy, and we don't learn what it all means until the end of the book…and revisiting the same situation at the end gives a VERY different spin on things.
More than the usual “surprising but inevitable” turn, the Twist is an ending that completely changes everything the entire story seemed to be.
The twist became overused and eye-rolling a while back. Or a certain kind of twist, anyway: Where the whole story was revealed to be a lie, or a delusion, or some kind of impossibly convoluted scheme within a scheme. Some stories do it really well (though it's gotten harder, with how often it's been done), while some…don't.
Reindeer Games, I'm lookin' at you!
Deux Ex Machina
This is considered bad writing! If the protagonists solve their problems with some kind of outside help, one that was not hinted at beforehand, you have a Deux Ex ending. This also applies when the ending is not particularly challenging and we are left asking, “Why didn't you just do that two hours ago and save us all some time?”
The Long Trip Forward
Here's a nice ending trick to a series or novel that takes us way into the future to show us how things turned out WAY past the end. Like anything, it could be done in a hacky, dumb way, or in a great way. Star Trek the Next Generation played with this, sort of, in its final episode and it was fantastic.
One thing I like to see is a little “bookend” during the ending. A little echo of the beginning. It can help tie the whole thing together and it…I don't know, it just feels right. Next Generation did this as well, with its final episode echoing many elements of the first episode. Seinfeld ended with some identical dialogue from the pilot episode. Breaking Bad brought back come characters from very early in the series and it was very effective.
Are there any specific types of endings…or specific stories with endings you hated? How about endings you loved?
Happy Thursday, y'all!
yours 'til the end,
Banes at 12:00AM, Jan. 21, 2016
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