Here At The End Of All Things

ftttsteward231[1]“Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here.”
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve been thinking about endings a lot, having just been monumentally disappointed by several. They’re often my favorite parts to read, but my least favorite to write. I can usually overlook a supporting character who wasn’t well developed (or whatever) if the ending was good. The following are some common endings – almost certainly not all of them, but the important ones. Note that plenty of books will have a combination of these endings; they’re not mutually exclusive.

The Rebuilding Ending

Seen in: The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Almost all books have some version of this. The rebuilding can be literal – for example, the hobbits have to fix up the Shire at the end of The Return of the King. It can also be figurative. The main character isn’t literally going to rebuild her life with LEGOs and wood and whatnot. Some things she could do to make her life better would be to move away from a bad situation, make new friends, et cetera.

Verdict: Tried and true. It’s good but also done a lot, so maybe try to have another ending in addition to this.

The “Nineteen Years Later” Ending

Seen in: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Named after the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this ending is just what it sounds like: you zoom into the future to let your readers see what’s happened to the characters. This is definitely one of the specific endings and for that reason it may frustrate some people. I, for one, love Harry Potter but didn’t particularly want to know about Harry as an adult. (This is why I could care less if Rowling wrote about the generation after Harry. Also, I want a book about the Marauders instead.) Some readers will want to know details about him losing all of his famously wild hair or whether he marries Hermione/Ginny/Luna/Ron. If your ending doesn’t skip ahead a few years you don’t have to be as specific (you can’t) and for some people that’s better because they don’t want to be limited. They want to imagine.

Verdict: This is a matter of personal taste. I have friends who love this ending and friends who hate it. Do your own thing with this.

The “Are We There Yet?” Ending

Seen in: The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is basically a really, really long version of the rebuilding ending, with a possible Nineteen Years Later ending thrown in. In Lord of the Rings the goal of the whole thing (destroying the One Ring) is accomplished only about halfway through The Return of the King. The story goes on for around a hundred pages after that. In my experience, this tends to happen with long, complex books that have tons of characters because there’s so many plot points to wrap up.

Verdict: It’s better to end thoroughly rather than not at all (see below) so if your book is complex, do it justice. Please. Just try not to have a six-hundred-page epilogue.

The “I See You, You Little Money-Grubbing Author, You.” Ending

Seen in: Any series book ever, provided that it’s not the last

Series are awesome, so I don’t really have any complaints here. Sometimes a story is too long to put in one book so it becomes a series and then naturally you have books where the endings don’t conclude things because that’s saved for a future book.

Verdict: I don’t think anyone ever thinks, “Oh, I’ll write a five-part series!” They just think of a story and the series becomes as long or short as need be so if you write this ending because the story has expanded into a series, that’s perfectly fine.

The Ambiguous Ending

Seen in: The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, The Giver by Lois Lowry

With this ending, you don’t tell the readers exactly what happens. You tie up many, but not all, of the loose ends. It’s not certain whether your main character’s future is good or bad. It may not even be certain if they’ve died right at the end or not. This is my absolute favorite ending for two reasons. First, it’s very difficult to pull this off so I admire authors who do it well. Second, I love to let my imagination run free after I’ve finished a story and ambiguous endings don’t limit the possibilities. For example, in Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins, it is not certain whether Gregor will stay in New York City or go to the Underland. It’s not certain whether his story ends happily. I have the ending all worked out in my head – he goes to the Underland and eventually marries Luxa and they live happily ever after – but someone else might’ve had entirely different ideas.

Verdict: If you can do this well, your readers will likely love you forever. If not… run.

The “Sputter To A Stop” Ending

Seen in: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

It’s very obvious that Collins knew what she was doing with the story until she reached the epilogue of Mockingjay. I wasn’t disappointed because Katniss ended up with Peeta, or because she’s never really recovered from the Games. Instead, I hated how the story fizzled out. There was this subtext of, “Wow… I have no idea what I’m doing!” She would’ve been better off to attempt an ambiguous ending.

Verdict: In my opinion, the worst ending possible.

The Fail To Finish Ending

Seen in: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth*

This is what happens when you attempt an ambiguous ending and it doesn’t work. It’s one of those things that you’ll know when you see it. There’s a fine line between giving a little information for the sake of your readers’ imaginations and not giving that information. It’s more developed than the sputter to a stop ending. You can see that the author is trying to go somewhere without giving too much away, but they’re not giving the readers enough help.

Verdict: Not recommended unless you want readers to screech, “I read all this for that?!” upon reaching the last page. (Librarians, I’m sorry if Miseducation was returned with a dent in it. I may have inadvertently thrown it across the room after reading five hundred pages only to discover that the ending didn’t tell me anything.)

*There needs to be a biography called The Misunderestimation of George Bush. I’ll write it, if need be. But this needs to exist.

The “Good Lord, Are Those Eagles I See?!” Ending

Seen in: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Never write your characters into situations so sticky that you need to pull other super-awesome-powerful characters out of thin air to rescue them. Tolkien uses the eagles three times, two of which are at or near endings. It’s maddening.

Verdict: Back to the drawing board! (Or the writing desk.)

What’s your favorite ending? Least favorite?


About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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24 Responses to Here At The End Of All Things

  1. Charley R says:

    Ehehehehe, all these are so true! Personally, I like ambiguous endings, or nice conclusive ones. I rarely use epilogues because they’re just pains the butt two write properly, because of the degree of separation from the end of the ‘true’ narrative. It depends what book I’m writing. I went for an ambiguous one with my most recent project, “Ikarus”, because it fit the tone, whereas my high fantasy trilogy got a nice conclusive ending where I finally let my poor abused heroes off the hook.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I’ve never actually written an ambiguous ending. Well… I tried to, so let’s just say I’ve never written one that I thought was any good!

      • Charley R says:

        Ehehe, I find them relatively easy . . . possibly because my happy / rebuilding endings often come out really cheesy. Not so much any more but OH MY VALAR some of my early works . . . *shudders*

  2. I hate endings. I like the ambiguous and rebuilding-type endings the best because I can imagine what happens to the characters when they carry on in their lives. I didn’t really want to know what happened to Harry in the epilogue, because I am a stubborn shipper of Harry/Hermione. Just look at all the tidbits JK slipped into the last book, you’ll definitely see a bit of Harry/Hermione there. But anyway, my point is that I hate endings, period. I usually avoid reading the last few pages for a week or two, then I go back to the book and finish it. Then I scream in horror/glee and throw the book across the room.

  3. What do you think about a sequel that is a sort of epilogue in itself?
    In my book (still deciding the title) I switched main characters at the end on account of the original main character’s death, but I think I want to write another novel about the new main character. Thoughts?

    • nevillegirl says:

      I like those. At the moment, I can’t think of any book that’s like that but sometimes your story is long enough that you need multiple books. It’s not necessarily a totally new story because there’s a new narrator – you’re writing about the same world (I assume) just with a different POV.

  4. A few technical things: the “Are We There Yet?” ending, as you called it, is justifiable by the definition of a milieu story. Lord of the Rings focuses on showing off as much of the world as possible, but keeps a story in there somewhere. Tolkien didn’t end it at the coronation because there was more to see– it wasn’t simply loose ends that weren’t wrapped up.

    The last ending you mentioned is actually called Deus Ex Machina, which means “God out of the machine.” Basically, the writer has put the characters in an impossible situation but doesn’t want them to die, or the situation just isn’t uncertain enough anymore, so he/she sends in something that either destroys the first evil or creates a new uncertainty to defeat. It is a common plot device, but as you said, it rarely works.

    So, nothing much to add, except that I loathe the ambiguous ending. I shouldn’t have to spend my free time thinking up fanfiction endings.

    • nevillegirl says:

      That makes sense, considering his style. I still think, though, that there were many things he had to finish, to the point where some of it got put in the Appendices. 🙂

      Oh, is that what it’s called? I like my name for it better. 😀

      If I don’t like the story then I usually don’t finish the book in the first place I don’t think of an ending, but with a series I adore it’s quite nice. It’s like the author is letting me mess with the characters and be as nice/cruel to them as I wish.

  5. Artgirl says:

    I can’t stand ambiguous endings! Okay, I’ll rephrase: I like it when authors leave some things to the imagination but tie up all the major loose ends. I cried when I read the last book in The Underland Chronicles because I wanted to know if he would ever go back to the Underland and marry Luxa. In my imagination he stays in New York, visiting the Underland from time to time, until he’s old enough to marry Luxa and then he moves to the Underland and his family visits him there. But I still wish I could just know for sure what happened. Gregor and Luxa are one of the few couples I actually ship because I believe Suzanne Collins played out their love story so well.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Ha ha, I guess I’m weird for loving them so much.

      I think that Gregor returned to the Underland quite soon but didn’t marry Luxa right away because that would be kind of weird. (They’re what, 13 at the end?) But I imagine that he might’ve learned more fighting stuff or explored with Ripred or something.

  6. Leinad says:

    I probably like the rebuilding ending the best, but it all depends on the novel. The only endings I never like are the “fail to finish” and the “sputter to a stop”. I have only read one “fail to finish” book, I think, and that was a comic book — TinTin and Alph-Art. It was a pity Hergé died half-way through writing/drawing it, because it would have been a really good one.

    I, too, very much disliked the ending for Mockingjay. Not only did it sputter to a stop, but Katniss seemed not to have undergone any positive character development and she showed little conviction in her choice of Peeta.

    If you hadn’t included examples, I would have said that I dislike the ambiguous ending, but I have read The Giver, and I didn’t have a problem with it, so perhaps ambiguous endings are okay.

    When I was younger I used to really like “nineteen years later” style endings, where you can see where everything is at a fair way down the track in character’s lives, but I’m not sure if I do any more. Also, I thought it was interesting that the “Nineteen Years Later” chapter in the Harry Potter series would be set in 2016, or something like that.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I think that can be excused if the author died halfway through. 🙂

      *busily maths away* I think it would be 2017. Anyway. When I was little I liked the author to plan everything out but (perhaps because now I write) I prefer to make up my own endings.

  7. Bethy says:

    I agree!! Mockingjay had a terrible ending! I wanted details about how she chose Peeta and so much more than; “they got married.” It was so disappointing! I think I moped about it for about 3 days. Which is the longest book hangover I’ve ever had.

    I disagree about the eagles one though. I like Gwaihir! I don’t think they were that pointless. For instance, in The Return of the King, it made sense to me. They needed help. In the Hobbit, the flaming trees appearance did seem a little patched together but I still liked it. It was fun trying to figure out if they would escape on their own, or if something would come save them. And I don’t remember the second appearance in the Hobbit…I need to read it again. But overall, I like the way he uses them.

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