writing

The Trouble with Writing Endings

Gauguin_young_woman.jpg
Paul Gauguin, “Portrait of a Young Woman. Vaite (Jeanne) Goupil),” Ordrupgaard, via Wikimedia.

The trouble with writing endings is that endings don’t actually exist. Not really. Instead there simply comes a moment when we stop telling the story.

Knowing when to stop has always been hard for me. In my head, I can’t help but carry the narrative on. What happens to the hero after she defeats the evil king? What happens after the protagonist gets married? What happens to the soldiers who were part of the losing army? What happens to the rest of the universe when the brightest star in a galaxy explodes?

There is always an after. And an after the after. And another after after that.

But the writer still has to stop telling the story at some point.

Where we decide to place the ending changes the meaning of a narrative. Does the tale finish on a high note? A pessimistic one? Does it leave the reader questioning and wondering? Or are the loose ends tied up in a simple, elegant bow, a gift to the reader?

Some writers instinctively know how to create that end. I’m jealous of them. I’m jealous because I can never quite stop my brain from whirring and seeing what branching paths my characters may take.

But maybe it’s okay to wonder that when writing a story.

Maybe there is no simple answer.

Maybe there is no correct one.

Maybe that’s just storytelling.

Maybe that’s just life.

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148 thoughts on “The Trouble with Writing Endings

  1. Sometimes they end the book or the series but then don’t know when to stop *cough* Uncle Rick *cough* Percy Jackson was the best *cough* the rest of your demi-god stories just don’t make the cut *cough*

    Anyways, for myself, I wish I could stick it out to the end when writing, but I am too easily distracted by other story ideas. And this is why I have a ton of works in progress, but no completed manuscript to show for my many hours of hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! It’s true! Sometimes authors really do need to admit that enough is enough; it is time to let a series of books go rest.

      And I know what you mean about having too many ideas flitting around in your head. My drafts and ideas folder is…large.

      Like

  2. Hi Kristen, your blog is short and simply poses somewhat of a question; it is a fun read! I can see how endings are difficult for a writer, especially if you are feeling connected to the characters. However, I think that part of the appeal to readers is that same need for more; to wonder what the character will do next, or how they would respond in certain situation. In a sense, the readers imagination then gets to share in the writing! I guess this doesn’t really help, but maybe it will help you to know the story and characters are likely living on in the thoughts of others!
    Tasha

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I for one have never really had trouble with endings… I actually know the end of the story (or at least have a vague idea) before I even start writing it ha ha. The trouble for me is in the middle areas, when the story starts to lose momentum and you have to figure out a way to get it going again

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  4. I remember when my school teacher instructed us to continue and write the ending of any one of the short story collections in our syllabus as the final project assignment, that year, I chose to continue A Day’s Wait by Ernest Hemingway, but I remember being torn between that and A Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs because I was able to envision so many types of endings for both of them. It was an interesting exercise that helped me figure out that there are endings beyond endings, just as you described.
    Your post helped me remember this, and I thank you for this.
    Endings are hard for me, because I like having an idea about the story arc and it gets confusing with endings unknown.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s interesting how endings have changed. Most of what we now call the Classics, the ones I’ve read anyway, have very hard endings. For example, Dickensian endings are definite happy-ever-afters (although usually ones like the end of Lord Of The Rings, where there’s been a terrible toll on some of the protagonists). The book ends because the something-something has been vanquished. Life carries on, but that’s another story (and the multi-story series seems to be largely a 20th-Century invention, even though Dickens pretty much invented the serialised single story).

    Maybe nowadays, thanks to TV, to those shows that never seem to die and those dramas that always leave us cliffhangering for a year until the next season, maybe we’ve been gently brainwashed into not thinking about endings like we used to.

    I struggle with them too (I’m not an author, but I teach storytelling – spot the obvious gaping hole I need to fill there). My problems with endings have turned me from a pantser into a plotter, more a mechanic than an artist, perhaps, which might be a problem – we shall see when I start releasing my own fiction…

    This is a very very long way of saying “yeah – I hear you.” 🙂 Thanks for this post, Kristen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, the evolution of endings is an interesting thought. You’re right that in a lot of the older stories, the ending comes when the monster has been defeated or a moral has been discovered. I wonder if some shifts away from that have to do with changes in the types of antagonists. (Internal vs external ones for example.)

      You’ve given me a lot to think about!

      Like

  6. One manuscript I ended too abruptly. The second project I gave a gruesome twist, shocking but unbelievable. Ah, endings.

    I re-wrote both at the suggestions of early readers. As the writer, because I am so invested in my stories I often need the outside input to see what I’ve missed. To understand what the reader needs, I need the reader. In fact, it’s this “conversation” between writer and reader that fuels my writing journey. I just love it.

    I think you’re right that ending stories is a misnomer. Like life, they just go on. But finding the logical stopping point is sometimes a collaboration between the writer that ends the words on the page, and the reader that adds their experience to it.

    Thanks for the post! I enjoyed reading all the comments from others as well. Lots of writers thinking about great endings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You give some great examples of why it is so important to have editors and other eyes on a manuscript before it is published! Sometimes a writer is to close to his/her own work to truly determine what plot points are the right ones.

      And I agree, it is so wonderful to see how other people are thinking of these things.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. All tales, I believe, can have a beginning, middle, and end, as long as we identify the themes. For (a simple) example, “Now for a tale of high adventure on the ocean waves, and how the ingenious son of a poor widow showed his character, and saved the kingdom.”

    When the kingdom is saved from that which endangers it, the tale has found an end.

    I think what you describe is the infinitude of stories itself. Where there’s one story to tell, there are a million. Each with their own origins and destinations, some of which overlap, just to make it even more difficult to extract that one, perfect story for the reader.

    The greatest writers seem to have a genius for knowing when their stories have reached their conclusion. Pride and Prejudice, for example, has to end when Lizzy and Mr.Darcy get hitched, the themes have been exhausted, and the outcome discovered.

    (There are clearly more stories to tell about their lives after, but maybe we’ve heard the interesting bit.)

    Maybe in this I’ve found my real theme: we want to tell the interesting stories, the ones that shine out from the rest. When the truly interesting, unique elements have reached an end, so too has the story?

    On the flip side, poor Robert Jordan lost sight of the end, and never reached it.

    Fascinating words to think on indeed though, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It can be a case of too much goodness and make you undecided to when you should stop a particular story. Maybe you could alternate endings, having your brain not knowing when to stop seeing more and more paths, can be remediated by deciding before you start that the story will have an upbeat ending and just go from there. Then the next story you can switch, focus your mind to stop as soon as your ending can be seen as an unhappy or sad one.

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