I am thinking of endings.
When I am deep reading a novel and moving closer to the final pages, I start thinking about the ending. I find myself hoping I won’t be disappointed by how the author has chosen to end the novel. Will I feel satisfied or will I be flattened? For the ending to be satisfying, there has to be a sense of completion. Not that everything is revealed. But sufficient pieces of the puzzle come together for the reader to reach a satisfying conclusion.
Endings linger. They are what we are left with after reading the whole novel. We may not retain much of the middle but the ending is the last and, arguably, the most lasting impression. As authors, we want to end our long fiction with a bang, but not necessarily a loud bang. A soft thud can also be satisfying.
Of course, there are many different ways to conclude a novel - see list here - but, for me, the one essential element is to make it memorable. Be it funny, sad, happy or shocking, the ending should stay in the reader’s mind long after they have finished reading.
In my view, the three essential criteria for a memorable ending are:
1. It is plausible.
As I was reading, I may have sensed it was going to end this way or I may have been surprised. But the ending must not make me pull back and doubt its veracity. I am not inclined to reject it or fight against it. It feels overwhelmingly right.
2. It follows from what has come before.
The seeds of the ending have been planted in the way the story unfolds, its theme, narrative tone, writing style, the way the characters speak, act and interact. The ending was there in the beginning and the middle even though I did not recognise it as I was reading.
3. It is satisfying.
As readers, we have co-created the story with the author. Every reader creates different impressions because each reader has a unique lens through which he or she perceives and interprets the world, and, specifically, the world of the book.
We experience satisfaction through our emotions, typically a mix of emotions, such as regret, bittersweetness, sadness, acceptance, joy and optimism. An ending ideally contains something of the distilled essence of the human condition. At the conclusion of Virginia Woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse,’ time has moved on and everything has changed. An amateur artist, Lily puts the final brushstroke on her painting and the novel concludes:
“With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.”
Is it possible to write a perfect ending? Perfection is a subjective concept and one person’s perfection can be another person’s poison. In my subjective opinion, Gillian Flynn’s conclusion to ‘Gone Girl’ is a perfect ending. For anyone who is yet to read this 2013 thriller, a spoiler alert.
Nick is staying in his marriage to Amy because she is having his baby and he desperately wants to be a dad. Amy’s due date is the following day. Nick has been spoiling her throughout her pregnancy. As this last scene opens, he is stroking her hair (it is Amy’s point of view):-
‘My gosh, Nick, why are you so wonderful to me?’
He was supposed to say: You deserve it. I love you.
But he said, ‘Because I feel sorry for you.’
‘Because every morning you have to wake up and be you.’
I really, truly wish he hadn’t said that. I keep thinking about it. I can’t stop.
I don’t have anything else to add. I just wanted to make sure I had the last word. I think I’ve earned that.
What does the reader take from this final chilling scene? That Nick is doomed; he is trapped like an insect in a spider’s web, always struggling but never escaping the malignancy that is Amy.
Gillian Flynn’s ending fulfils my three criteria: 1. It is plausible. 2. It follows from what came before. 3. It is satisfying. The reader was mentally screaming at Nick to cut his ties, to get away from Amy. Even though he knows what she is and what she is capable of, he has been pulled back into her maw.
What are your favourite novel endings? The ones that thrilled you, 'Wow, that's awesome!' I would love to know what they are, and why you love them. I invite and encourage you to comment below.
Talking about endings, this is my final blog article for 2023. I would like to say "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" to everyone who reads it. May 2024 bring you health and happiness and may all your writing goals come to fruition.
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p. s. If you are seeking professional services in 2024 in relation to manuscript appraisal, development editing, copyediting, proofreading and self-publishing, please get in touch with Lynne at your earliest convenience. She will provide you with information and advice about the publishing industry to help you find your best way forward.