Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The ending of a book can make or break the story. If an author leaves us hanging or feeling cheated, we may never forgive them for it. A satisfying last line can also gain our love forever.

But is there a right way to end a story?

The most common type of conclusion happens when there’s no story left to tell. EMMA by Jane Austen — and every Jane Austen book, for that matter — ends with all the main characters finding true love. On one hand, these endings can be predictable and a little too perfect, on the other, happily ever afters have stood the test of time. 

Other authors leave the outcome for the reader to interpret. The main conflict is resolved, but we have to use our imaginations to know what happens next. At the end of VILLETTE, Charlotte Brontë leaves hints of sadness to come, but allows us to believe in a happy ending where Lucy and Paul are reunited if we want. Real life is full of unanswered questions, and sometimes we like to fill in the blanks ourselves.

Epilogues and denouements often inspire mixed feelings from readers. Some people can’t stomach them, but I don’t think they will ever completely disappear. In THE RETURN OF THE KING by JRR Tolkien, do we really need to know what happens after the ring is destroyed and Aragorn is crowned king? Nah. But would the story be the same without the bittersweet moment when Frodo sails to the Undying Lands?

There are a million different ways to end a story. Some books end with a twist or bring us back to where we started, and we see a familiar scene with new eyes. Others just stop and leave you wondering why the heck you read it in the first place. Sometimes the end of a story is the end of a life, or a fresh start after the protagonist has discovered who they are. We’ve seen lessons learned, mysteries solved, relationships mended, villains defeated, and worlds saved.

There is no right or wrong way to end a book. We all want a conclusion that feels satisfying to us, but there’s no ending that will please everyone. Authors choose the way that feels best to them, and people will love or hate them for it. That’s life.

Story endings are a source of endless debate, and that’s part of the fun. So what kind of conclusions do you like? What do you hate?



Simply_Megan said...

I'm probably boring, but I like happy endings. Or endings where you're pretty sure everything is going to turn out okay, even if you don't actually get to see it. Epilogues are sometimes okay, but I didn't really like the epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I think it could have done without it.

Joelle said...

For me it depends on the story. I really don't prefer one type ending over another. It just has to feel right for the story.

kaye (paper reader) said...

I might come back later with more, but as I've been reading lately I just want to end to feel natural. Happy, sad, however - it just has to fit the overall theme and mood of the book. So doing a 180 within the last five pages doesn't really work with me unless it was something that makes sense, where I can say, "oh, crap, I totally see that now."

Also I'm not a fan of abrupt endings in a series. Cliffhangers are one thing, but just...ending as if I'm expecting more pages to appear are sort of bizarre.

But don't get me wrong...I love a good happy ending!

Sophia said...

Fun story about the ending to Vilette (also, spoilers ahoy!). My seminar class read and discussed this book and when it came to the ending people fell on different sides of the 'is Paul okay?' spectrum. And then I pointed out that in my version of the book they included a footnote where Bronte was quoted saying Paul died. Some people were not pleased.

I hated the epilogue to Harry Potter because everything was wrapped up in a neat, saccharine bow. I understand why Rowling may have felt the need to (seven books' worth of emotional investment, keeping the audience from begging for specifics) but I prefer my ends to have a slight open-ended element: I like to feel that the characters' stories extend beyond the page. Similarly I really liked the ending of Lauren Oliver's Delirium because it was open-ended and sad but hopeful and then I discovered it was part of a trilogy and now I'm not sure how I feel.
- Sophia.

Unknown said...

I agree with Joelle, that depending on the story, I will decide whether or not I like the ending. I tend to not like happy-ever-after endings that aren't so realistic.
Most Favourite ending line ever?!?

"Real or not real?"

(Makes me want to run and pick up the book again).

AND, as Sophia says, I really prefer my stories to feel like they continue after that last line.

KelliumSims said...

I love endings that leave you breathless for whatever reason.

My most memorable ending is 'Before I Die' by Jenny Downham. It left me crying my eyes out. My mum came into my room wondering what the heck had happened to get me in such a state.

Then there are endings like 'Stolen' by Lucy Christopher. The book was pretty average all the way though, but then the ending was so powerful that it left me gob smacked.

Basically, I like endings to be impactful. While a happy love story ending is cute and pleasant and it would never bother me to read one, an ending that isn't realistically ideal (i.e. death, major character development, complete and utter joy) they are the best endings (:

Great discussion topic by the way

Nonie said...

I completely agree with Joelle. The ending just needs to fit the story, and I'll be happy. :) I can't really imagine Mockingjay with a happy, gushy story ending, or LOTR ending with Frodo staying in the Shire. The endings just makes the story complete and wraps up what the author wants to say, so it won't be as powerful if it didn't fit with the context, I guess.

Kristan said...

Wow, lots of good points being made here in the comments, so now I don't know what to say, lol...

Well, I think I'm most like Simply_Megan, in that I *prefer* upbeat endings, and I *prefer* not having everything wrapped up so perfectly (cough cough epilogues cough cough). I mean, one of my favorite things about books is that they inspire you to use your imagination while you're immersed in someone else's! So don't deny me that pleasure, eh?

But as Joelle said, it is *most* important that the ending feel natural to the story. I know a happy ending is not always called for, and I can live with that.

Rummanah Aasi said...

Like Kaye, I like an ending that fits the book's tone. It doesn't need to be happy or tie up in a bow but at least gives us a sense of what might happen next.

Villete, in my opinion, ends in a sad note, but then again I kinda expected it and it fits.

CareyCorp said...

What a fun question. I like all kinds of endings. My favorite ending is not from a book, but from the movie CHASING AMY. Ambiguity lets optimists dream and pessimists grieve. Both can be cathartic.

Regarding books, I favor a happy-ever-after at the end of a series. But books one and two in the series have got to end in heartbreak with an undertone of optimism.

I completely agree with sarahwedgbrow.

"Real or not real?"
"Real." equals BRILLIANT!

Stephanie Mooney said...

Joelle -- I completely agree. There's no rhyme or reason to what endings I like. It just has to feel right for the story.

Megan, Sophia, and Kristan -- I didn't so much mind the Harry Potter ending, and I usually tend to like epilogues. Not sure why. But I can do without them too.

Kate and T.B. -- Yes! Endings that leave you breathless are always great. We need more of those.

Sophia and Rummanah -- I love the ending of VILLETTE because you get to decide for yourself what happens (LOL, as long as you ignore the footnotes). Everyone has a different opinion about what becomes of Paul, and it keeps people talking about the story.

Ingrid Palmer said...

I guess I prefer endings where things are somewhat wrapped up-- not too neatly, but enough to know what direction the main character is headed. And I don't mind epilogues, either, Steph. The thing that I don't like is when endings are too coincidental or when something completely unrealistic happens that solves the main conflict.

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

I hate complete cliffhangers in series books. Of course in a series there is always going to be something unresolved (or else why would you want to read on?), but it doesn't have to be a cliffhanger. My favourite type of series book is one where the plot of the book is contained within the one novel, but the overarching themes of the series (or trilogy) are left unresolved. I think 'Divergent' did this well. Of course the Harry Potter books are an epic example of this.

And this is just a really personal view of mine, but I hate ambiguous endings. I don't need everything spelled out, but I want to know for sure what happens to the characters. 'Trapped' was a book where the ending drove me crazy, even though I loved the rest of the book.

Patricia's Particularity said...

Great post! You are correct about Jane Austen's books. I think though with her novels the happy endings were unpredictable in her time - it was very rare that men of high status married a woman of no means, unless she came with a title.

For me, the conclusion that I prefer depends on the rest of the novel. The Vampire Academy series I think ended PERFECTLY - as well as each individually book. While the main conflicts were concluded there were still much that was left up to the reader's imagination. That being said there are some books that end the same way that I don't believe are the right ways (at least for me). I recently read A Season For Eden for review and did not enjoy the way it ended at all - the main conflicts were not solved at all and even the smaller ones were not completely solved. I left feeling like there was no resolution.

Great post! <3 Happy Reading
Patricia @ Patricia's Particularity

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



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