What do you think makes a good ending?

This is a question that has been floating around my head for quite some time now, so I thought I’d explain what I mean before I open the topic up to all of you, my lovely and consistently insightful readers.

In a lot of ways the ending of a story is almost as important as the start of a story. Anyone who has ever done any kind of creative writing class, or let’s face it, anyone who went to school and had a half decent English teacher, will have heard on many the occasion the importance of having a strong opening line, page, chapter, scene, whatever – something to hook the reader and reel them in. And while the beginning of a story is important to attract your attention initially, the ending is the part that will often stay with you long after you have finished. If the ending is disappointing, it can almost certainly ruin a book, but if the ending is powerful and poignant, it can leave you feeling humbled and inspired, even in cases where the rest of the story was mediocre.

Before I say what I think makes a good ending, I’d like to consider what I think makes a bad one, and I suspect much of this won’t come as a surprise. Firstly, I’m not the biggest fan of a happy ending. I like endings that have some happiness, an ending that perhaps leaves you with hope, or makes you laugh even, but I really don’t like that fairytale “and they lived happily ever after” ending on anything other than fairytales and Disney movies – it works great for children’s literature, but too many times I have read a work of adult fiction and found a very forced, happy ending that doesn’t fit in with the tone of the book. And that’s something else I don’t like in an ending – when you can tell it’s forced, or when it’s obvious the writer suddenly needed to meet a deadline and quickly tied up all the loose ends of the story in this half-arsed manner, which just comes across as lazy, and hardly leaves me wanting to read more of their work. Lastly, I am always disappointed when the ending is predictable. I’m not saying I want the ending to completely bowl me over in surprise, but I shouldn’t be able to guess every little detail of it several hundred pages prior, either.

So what do I like in an ending? I like an ending that flows naturally from the story, and that comes to a proper end, one that is realistic and conceivable within its own context and genre. I like an ending that is just lightly surprising, just enough to make you think “oh, that’s clever!” I like an ending that is thought provoking – in fact, I dare say this is one of the most important aspects for me, because I want to come away from a book thinking about and reflecting upon it, and not just thinking “well, another one bites the dust.” And as odd as this might sound, and this is entirely a personal feeling – I prefer a melancholy ending. Not deeply depressing, not “everyone has died, and the community/kingdom/duranduranfanclub* will never recover” type of ending somewhat akin to a Shakespearean tragedy, but something melancholy and sad in atmosphere and tone, something that stays with you and gnaws away gently at your thoughts for a day or two.

What do you think makes a good ending of a story, whether it be a short story, novel, play, or even a film?Β 

Do you prefer happy or sad endings, and if so, do you have a particular reason why?

 

*No offense to any Duran Duran fans out there. Hungry Like The Wolf was a good song.

35 thoughts on “What do you think makes a good ending?

  1. I am very hardly satisfied with any ending to a story, especially if its a good book. The entire time I am reading, I am DYING to get to the end of the story to find out what happens then its like ‘Oh… books over.’ sad face

    • I know what you mean, especially if it’s a long book, and you think it’s going to build up to some amazing ending, and then it just kind of ends. I’d say I’m maybe satisfied about half the time with endings, if I had to actually put a figure on it.

  2. I like endings that leave me stunned. I like walking around for hours just thinking “Wow”. I also like endings that end up a certain way because you know they have to but you really want them to end up another. Example, Mockingjay. I don’t know if your readers have read the Hunger Games series, but Mockingjay summed up the entire series as well as reaching a dynamic conclusion to the individual book. The whole time I was literally begging Suzanne Collins out loud to make Katniss end up with (won’t say name. don’t want spoiler alert). It was the perfect choice, It had to end that way, but deep down, I knew Katniss would have to go with ____ because it was just the logical progression of the story. It made sense, it was the way it had to be. Still the heart took a different path and wanted the dream. Unfortunately, life doesn’t deal us with what we want and Suzanne Collins drove that home in the end. Those are Wow moments for me. Those are the endings that keep me coming back for more. Sorry for the long post. πŸ™‚

    • I agree with you, I like endings that leave me stunned. I have always loved the ending of Catch 22, because the final two chapters are so opposite each other – the second last chapter is so sad it made me cry (no other book has ever done this), and then the last chapter was oddly funny, but ending on an “whoooa” kind of moment that just stays with you.
      And I agree, the ending of The Hunger Games series was very much what it should have been, regardless of whether people like it, etc.

  3. It has to leave me with that “Ah of course” feeling, even if there is surprise it has to be surprise that makes sense. No, it doesn’t have to be sunshiny happy but I like to have a little hope. Mind you that said the ending of my Novella Who Follows is about as far from sunshiny as one could get, still though I hope it is appropriate and I have had good feedback. I have just finished one though with a jolly, happy ending and I have to say it did make me feel smiley as I wrote The End.

    • I agree, I want the endings to make sense – there is nothing more alienating than reading an ending and thinking to yourself “wait…hang on a minute…no…that doesn’t make sense!” And then trying to backtrack to make sense of it all.
      I think an ending can be really gloomy or really happy and still work, so long as it’s appropriate and it works! πŸ™‚

  4. I like reading a satisfying ending. Although it doesn’t necessarily have to be all wine and roses, I hate those doom and gloom endings where everyone dies at the end, or there seems to be no hope for them. (I guess that’s why I hate zombies because they always seem to be coming after you no matter what you do and they seem to multiply at an alarming rate!) I also hate reading a book, not realizing it’s a sequel, come to the end and find, to my dismay, the hero/heroine is left suspended in mid-air until the next book without solving the particular plot of the book I’m reading. That is just plain annoying – and yet, it does make me hold my breath for the next book to come out so I can find out how the plot was solved! πŸ™‚

    • This is true, what you say about zombies, and I think that can be applied to all horror stories really – they never turn out well. I also agree with the sequel ending – while I do get excited about the next book, I do also like when sequels function just as well as individual stories, while part of a larger overarching story. πŸ™‚

  5. I hate happy endings. What I really like are “Oh crap!” moments to end a book. Like when all the loose ends are tied up, except for one that is just a completely unexpected twist. Unfortunately, I read a lot of reviews that frown upon this type of ending, especially if its not clear that a sequel is in the works.

    • Ahhh how interesting! I find those sort of endings can be fun from time to time, as long as the author pulls it off well. I think a lot of reviewers frown upon any ending that isn’t exactly what they wanted, which is a bit silly but there you have it.

      • I think a lot of readers are too picky in general. I think, if I even have readers, that the hardest thing for me will be to tell myself that I can’t contact each and every reviewer to have the last word, haha.

        • Well this is absolutely true – you can’t please everyone, and I imagine as a published author it would be best not to worry about such things. But probably easier said than done. πŸ˜›

  6. I’ve been known to peek at the ending of a book when the suspense gets too much…I like all kinds of endings, happy, sad…What matters is that the book stays with me in some way…Cheers Wanton πŸ™‚

    • Hahahahah, I used to do that when I was a kid, peeking at the ending of books. Now I just like to guess how it ends, though sometimes I like to just immerse myself and not think about it.
      I agree though, if the book continues to resonate long after it’s put down, that’s a sign of a good book! πŸ™‚

  7. I like endings that can be interpreted in different ways. Take the end of Drieser’s “Sister Carrie,” in which Carrie has become a famous, wealthy actress, but is alone in her huge apartment, rocking in her rocking chair and dreaming. Is it happy and exciting that she is still striving forward, assuming that happiness lies in the pursuit of happiness (it’s not the destination, but the journey that is fulfilling) or is it depressing that she will never be satisfied, that she will always need to achieve more?

    And I like the ending of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale;” we have no idea what happens to Offred. Is she betrayed or caught on the Underground Femaleroad, or does she escape to freedom?

    I guess what I’m saying is that I like open-ended endings that don’t say, “this is what happened and this is how you should feel about it.” I like endings that don’t close up the story, but open it to multiple possibilities. It’s probably the control freak in me that likes to decide how the book ends!

    • I know what you mean, actually – I do love a good open-ended ending. I haven’t read the two books you mentioned, but actually the story that comes to mind when you mention open-endings is the film Inception – I have had many the good debate with other people on whether or not he returned to real life, or chose to stay stuck in his dreams. And the film clearly ended vaguely to spark such a debate over what might have happened, which I love.
      I must confess, I have ended more than one story that I have written on a similar note, leaving it open to interpretation. πŸ™‚

          • I actually saw it in the theater twice with my boyfriend, and we were pretty much obsessed with the Inception memes that were all over the place — did you see those? Hilarious.
            He really is a good director, and I love that Michael Cane seems to be in all of his movies πŸ˜›

            • Haha yes I remember the Inception memes, they were good.
              And heeeey, I never noticed that before but you’re right, Michael Caine is in all of his movies (that I can think of). I love Michael Caine. πŸ˜›

  8. It’s hard to say what kind of ending I prefer. The only sensible thing I can think of to explain my ending-type preferences is that I prefer endings that either fulfill my expectations or preconceptions about what I think the ending should be, or endings that utterly shock me. Which, I think, is the way most people want endings to be. But for the sake of trying to explain endings I like/don’t like here are examples: the ending of Jane Eyre is too tidy, and the ending of Mill on the Floss is too much of a cop out. However, the ending of Lolita is wonderful, as is the ending of Mrs. Dalloway and The English Patient.
    Endings are very, very complicated things.

    • That is a really good way to describe it actually, and I think you’re right, most people do fall into that category – either meeting their expectations or completely defying them (I think you could apply that dichotomy to what kinds of humour people like and even music, but I digress).
      Likewise I dislike endings that just feel like cop outs. I haven’t finished Lolita yet (I will one day), But I agree with Mrs Dalloway and The English Patient – they both have great endings.
      But you are right, I think it is very complicated what makes a good ending, which has made for some fascinating insights and comments on this post! πŸ™‚

  9. I dislike forced happy endings, actually, any ending that seems forced or rushed is just…urg.
    I think writing an ending is perhaps the hardest thing to do for any work. You have to summerize everything with just enough detail to leave people satisfied but not too much where every question is answered.
    Leaving it too open-ended (like in Inception and The Mist – Stephen King) can be either amazing or a flop. It can either really piss people off or spark healthy debates.
    Answering every single plot point makes the reader walk away without thinking any harder on the story which is just not a good thing. Endings are complex little beasts.
    I think that’s why I recently said “screw the ending” in one novel and started with what happens in the end. Literally, I had the big reveal right at the beginning and you’re left to wonder how the HECK it happened and why. It’s kind of like: “the world ended. Now I’m going to tell you why.” Not sure if it works though. To be fair, I did have a chapter and an epilogue after the ending that happens in the beginning. But you know by the end of the prologue who dies. You just don’t know how or why.
    No matter what kind of ending, it’s always sad to come to the end of a good novel.

    • I agree, I definitely dislike forced endings on any level, and you’re right about the open-endings too, as they have to be just right to work (but I do think Inception nailed it).
      I like the idea of starting with the end – I’ve read some great stories that start with the ending. I find that works particularly well in a short story, too – Truman Capote wrote a short story, the name of which eludes me, that began with announcing the death of one of the main characters, only to backtrack and ultimately circle back around to this by the end of the story. Was very clever actually.
      You’re right, it is often sad to come to the end of a good novel, kind of like the end of a really enlightening journey I suppose, though if it really amazes you, you can always return to it and read it again later. I’m not much of a one to re-read books, but some I have to every so often.

  10. In a book, I like when I can read the last page first and it makes the desire to read even greater. In books and films, endings define the quality of everything else.

    • Hmmm it seems you really like the endings! πŸ˜› I guess I can kiiind of see where you’re coming from – if you read the last page and it fills you with intrigue as to how the story got to that ending, then that might spur you on to read the rest. I still wouldn’t do it myself, but I suppose I can see why you do. πŸ™‚

  11. I love unpredictable endings, though it doesn’t mean it has to be completely weirdly unpredictable. But surprising and unexpected endings are the kind of thing I like. Plus, like you said, I think every book should leave you thinking, leave an imprint on you…and endings can go a long way in doing that! Love endings like that!

    • Yep, you pretty much just encapsulated what I like in an ending! πŸ™‚ I have always loved the ending of my favourite book, Catch 22. After a really devastatingly upsetting second last chapter, it ends on an almost silly note, but something happens literally in the last few sentences that left my jaw gaping, and the scene has stuck with me for years.

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  13. I read The Time Traveler’s Wife last week. I enjoyed the book; although I did and didn’t like the ending. My poem: She waits/ He comes/ He goes/ She waits! Yeah, I guess I do like those “Happy Ever After” endings, because life ain’t like that!!!

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