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?