15 Comments

The Ending

The Matrix series of films is one of my least favorite stories. The first film hooked me, but a lame ending and unresolved plot devices left me very bitter that I’d invested time watching it. As much as I might enjoy a book or film, the impression is leaves on me has everything to do with how it ends. If I like the ending, I will probably re-watch/read it often. If I don’t like the ending, it will usually get an unfavorable reaction and I’ll never read it again.

The ending.

It’s so important. Many times while reading the final book in a series, I’ll get this sinking feeling that things are going to end very poorly. Not just for the characters I’ve invested my time and emotions in, but the story line as a whole. About halfway through A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time series, I started to get that feeling.

Now, have  no fear – no spoilers here. But as I contemplated that the ending might be very unsatisfying, it got me thinking about just how important the ending is to a story. For a story to be thought of as great, it must absolutely have a satisfying ending. That is, one that rewards the reader for their investment in the story.

I’m happy to say that when I finished A Memory of Light around midnight yesterday it was wholly rewarding for my time investment. But it got me thinking why?

theending

The reason I hated the ending to the Matrix series is because Neo and Trinity, our heroes, die for nothing. Wait, you say. Neo’s death rescued his people from the machines by rescuing the machines from a rogue program taking over their life support system. Sorta, I guess. If that’s how you see it, fine. But that’s not what the creators of the film say they did. Their ending was one where good doesn’t win over evil, because there is no good and evil — there’s only the cycles of life.

Lame.

Cloverfield is another story that left me feeling I’d wasted my time. The main character rescues his lifelong love only to die under a pile of crumbling buildings at the end? Every other character’s death is meaningless. They don’t die accomplishing anything unless it’s that two of them don’t die alone.

Lame.

Some say, “Well that’s real to life. Things don’t always end well.” If I wanted real to life, I would watch the news, not read a fantasy story. There’s enough craziness on cnn.com to entertain me with real to life stories.

So, what is a satisfying ending? It doesn’t mean that the story ends with everyone living happily ever after. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the heroes make the best decisions. But there needs to be something that results from their struggle. If the characters struggle for nothing, it leaves a very hollow feeling in my gut. A feeling I don’t want to experience.

When I read “The end”, I want to be able to close the book, smile, and set it on my shelf knowing I will revisit it again like an old friend. I’m willing to go through their struggles if there’s a payoff.

Which made me think of my own writing. The ending to the Godslayer series is already embedded in my mind. The ending to Soul Yearning was one of the first things I dreamed about when the story started to form in my heart. I don’t write without knowing how the story ends. Because for me that’s what everything else is leading toward. An ending that makes me smile when I dream up the story. I know everyone doesn’t write that way, but it would be so hard for me to write not knowing that what I was writing would end in a satisfying way.

In my opinion, A Memory of Light satisfies. When I closed my audiobook app and took out the headphones, I smiled, knowing that I’ll listen to it again someday. So, how important is the ending to you? As a writer, do you have the ending already planned out when you start writing?

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About Will Ramirez

Will Ramirez grew up with a love for God's Word and fantastical worlds. The first passion led him to pastor Calvary Chapel Lighthouse for the the last 17 years. The second led him to create the world of Adme, the setting for his coming debut novel, an epic fantasy titled Soul Yearning. He lives in Central Florida with his bride of seventeen years and their four children. Since 2010, he's been a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on the leadership team of Word Weavers of Orlando. He is currently working on the second book of the Godslayer series as well as The Unspoken, book one of a dark fantasy trilogy. In the land of Adme, powerful beings rule as deities and compete with one another for followers. But when a young priest is revealed as the prophesied godslayer, the pantheon unites to destroy him.

15 comments on “The Ending

  1. The closest I had to an ending was after using Ben Bova’s The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells, which taught me the clearest method I’d seen for plotting a character arc. I had major steps, and a scenario at the end where I knew what decision I wanted my character to make. That’s the novel I’m rewriting through the fifth draft right now, and will need a better ending this time around. I’ll still have the same basic scenario and need for decision, but the more minute details and thread wrapups will be different.

    One thing I get frustrated with in endings is when they “leave the reader to decide” what happens. To me, that’s like an unfinished painting, instead of a music track that fades out.

    Stupid Matrix. I really liked the first movie.

    I just finished Wintertide, and am liking Perceplicuis (or however you spell that). Looking forward to comparing notes on that book (Heir of Novron) with you.

    • Ugh, I totally hate endings that leave the reader to decide. The writer is the one telling the story – tell it to me already.

      I’m in the middle of Emerald Storm (2nd half of book 2) right now. It’s been very rewarding up to this point. He’s shocked me with some deaths, but none of them were meaningless. In fact one of them is crucial to developing other characters in a deeper way. Now that I’m done with Memory of Light, I plan to get cracking on finishing up Sullivan’s series. Kinda hard to put down a book I’ve been waiting for for over a decade hehe.

  2. I’m with you. The ending is huge. So-so series have been redeemed by great endings, and I still haven’t forgiven Alexandre Dumas for “The Three Musketeers” ending (felt so flat and lame). I will overlook a lot for a good ending. I just watched a movie called ‘Safety Not Guaranteed.’ While sweet and quirky, there were some harsher scenes–but it had the best ending that gave the viewer exactly what they wanted, but didn’t expect, breaking the usual genre conventions. I will happily watch it again for that ending.

    Ending is critical in my own writing as well. I know I’m getting close to drafting a story when I have the ending in mind. I may not have the specifics, but I’ll have an idea of what needs to happen and what characters need to be where, and what emotion it needs to evoke in the reader.

    And I’ve vowed to never watch the third Matrix movie because of the ending. It doesn’t exist. The story ended with the first. I feel the same way about the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

  3. Thanks for sharing Janeen! I was totally let down by the ending to the 3rd Pirates movie. Being able to come ashore once a decade to see my wife and daughter is a bit unsatisfying heh. I might have felt better if Will Turner just died sacrificially in some way.

  4. Endings are often what the readers will remember most when looking back on a book. It’s the final impression. A bad ending can usurp a book that might otherwise be pretty good. I do agree that I am not a fan of bad endings–it’s not why I read. There are a few movies that I refuse to watch again, just b/c of how they ended–City of Angels and Million Dollar Baby being two examples. Great post–all writers need to consider their endings carefully.

  5. I am definitely a happy-ending girl. Will, I totally agree with you about Matrix. Great evaluation.

    I used to write without a clear view of the end, but after writing many, many aimless drafts that way, I’ve learned to work out at least most of the major story points, including the ending, before I start writing. Begin with the end in mind, as Stephen Covey would say.

  6. Hey, Will! Hey, Ralene!
    Yes, story may be king, but he doesn’t get to be king until he’s crowned by the ending. I am with you; I never start writing a book until I’ve outlined the basics for how it’s going to end.
    But unlike some authors, I feel I can’t actually write that scene until it’s time for it.
    I simply don’t know the characters well enough yet.
    And as for movies where it’s up to the viewer to decide the ending, my husband and I watched a Richard Gere movie this week kinda like that. It was called Arbitrage. Fantastic movie. Until the end…ugh.
    Keep up the great posts!
    I’m loving them. Endings, too. 🙂
    Bethany

    • Hey Bethany! I’m totally with you on not being able to write the scene until I’m there. I take a lot of notes – especially if there’s dialogue I don’t want to forget – but I don’t write it until I’ve lived through the entire journey with them.

      In fact, I think pondering about this topic caused me to realize something about my writing. I spend tons of time dreaming about or imagining the beginning and ending of stories, but not so much the middle. Yet, the middle is the bulk of the story. I think I’ve had an aha moment heh.

  7. Will, I am in complete agreement on the Matrix Trilogy. Although there were elements in the second and third movies that I really liked, the senseless plot line and Eastern story cycle orientation left my Western mind puzzled and disappointed. I’ve had similar experiences with the few movies I’ve seen that originated from Asian production houses, which typically have a different (non-Western) target audience; they were excellent movies but the typically open and unresolved endings were deeply unsatisfying to me, knowing that nothing would follow to provide the closure I’m used to experiencing. But it made me think about how so many books include epilogues that launch you into a sequel while providing closure on the current story–perhaps that’s an acknowledgement that stories never truly end, for.even Revelation, which is about “the last things” isn’t really the end of the story for the Bride of Christ, but there is certainly closure as “all things pass away”. Thanks for writing this blog entry–good topic!

    • Hey Girard! Great thoughts concerning epilogues. Personally I love them and I don’t even mind so much if it leaves the impression that the characters I love still have adventures to have. But I do think their struggle needs to be resolved in a satisfying way before the end. That way I’m alright with not knowing all the details of their future adventures.

      I almost included some thoughts on how a Judeo-Christian mindset on good and evil, and good triumphing over evil effects my personal outlook on a good ending. But alas, I was long winded enough already. Your comments on the difference between the Asian and Western mind immediately brought those thoughts back to mind. Maybe next week!

  8. LOL — it just dawned on me that you implied some people would call Cloverfield “true to life.” 😀

  9. I’m with you on the crummy endings thing! As someone said somewhere, “I loved the Matrix! It’s a shame they never made any sequels.”

    The Dark is Rising series kind of struck me that way. I’ve expunged the series ending from my consciousness, but I remember being left with a bad taste in my mouth (the final boss fight involved everybody trying to steal the Tree of Life), and I never read it again.

    However, I read the Dalemark Quartet every year because the ending is heartbreakingly, sweetly wonderful. The use of time travel to tie all the books together was simply brilliant. Also, I wish I’d been the one to think of someone casting a spell by weaving a coat, and the words in the coat are the spell itself.

  10. Endings are my favorite to write. In fact, if I don’t like an ending to a movie or a story, I’ll make up a better one. Usually for a story that I’m writing I have the end in mind from the start, but then after the story is written, I’ll change it, even shortly before submitting because I understand the story more. For “The Cruller Twist” that I submitted today at Every Day Fiction, the first drafts ended with a romantic angle, but then I wanted something more subtle, so I added a paragraph and brought in previously mentioned characters to end on the theme of children and family. It’s so much richer. As Aristotle said in his treatise “Poetics”, the end is the point after which nothing is needed.

    -Mickey Hunt at http://www.chaoticterrain.com

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