Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The End

I've been talking a bit about the ending of LOST lately. It keeps coming up, as I reminisce with friends about old shows we used to love to talk about and speculate about.

And I keep thinking about the ending. And how disappointed I was in it. I loved nearly all of the show... even the first hour and fifteen minutes of the finale. I felt the creators were going to do it, were going to get it done.

And then, the last fifteen minutes completely invalidated a part of the show for me. It's just an opinion. I don't hate the creators for their ending. It was their ending, and they should stand by it. There are some people who love it, and it is their right to.

But it gets me thinking about writers and their endings. Endings are hard. They need to have an emotional impact, they need to be full of tension and excitement and they need to be satisfying. And they need to hold true that has come before it.

Those are high stakes.

When I write, I rarely have an ending in mind. I follow the characters, see where it takes me and hope the ending comes about organically. And with each of my novels, the ending has been revised several times until I got to something that fit.

But it stuns me when most writers say they have an ending in mind when they start. When I start I'm still learning the characters and what they want. The ending can't come until I know that.

The creators of LOST said they had their ending in mind--the final shot--when they started. I believed that, but I don't know that you can be beholden to that.

Endings are hard.

Ending this blog post is hard.

I think GET SHORTY said it best.

What do you look for in an ending? Can an ending completely invalidate a story for you? Can it completely redeem a story for you? What are some of the best and/or worst endings you've read?


Scott D. Parker said...

A good ending can improve a mediocre story. A bad ending can tarnish the end of a good story. So, yes, endings are important.

Among the best:
The Day After Tomorrow by Allan Folsom (last sentence!)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Branded Woman by Wade Miller

Among the worst:
The Mist (movie; I understood the ending, but completely and utterly hated it and it ruined the entire movie)

Gerald So said...

Over the years, I've paid less attention to TV series finales. I don't think you can know the ending of a TV series from the start because the show may be cancelled anytime, and if so, the ending you had in mind won't come to fruition. John Rogers, co-creator of TNT's Leverage, writes every season finale as a possible series finale.

By contrast, a lot of TV writers try to squeeze as much closure as possible into a series finale because viewers may have tuned out for a few seasons and only tuned back in for the finale. Readers can't tune in and out of a novel.

I can't say an ending has invalidated or redeemed a story for me, but at times I've wished a novel wasn't just another in a series but the last. Some novels and series would resonate all the more for it.

I prefer muted endings that allow me to focus on the emotions of the final moments, that don't get caught up in fireworks. Recently, I thought Liquid Smoke by Jeff Shelby ended well.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I know my husband will forgive a lot if a book has a strong ending. Same with a movie.
But it's not as important to me. It seems indicative of my world view that the ending will let you down a bit.

Al Tucher said...

I think the hardest thing to do is end a comedy well. Shakespeare blew it more often than not. And that's one reason I love the movie Tin Men, with Barbara Hershey, Danny DeVito, and Richard Dreyfus. There's just enough of a suggestion of what comes next.

Thomas Pluck said...

Endings are tough. I'll admit, I haven't read many that truly satisfy me. But sometimes, you can't get what you want, but you get what you need.

For example, Out There Bad by Josh Stallings. He tempers our desire for revenge with some cold reality. That's a solid ending.

Back where you started endings often satisfy our circular story needs. The adventure is over, and our character is back to the grind. Having a drink at the pub. Going to work. Healing from his or her injuries, physical or emotional. I find these a bit too common, and often they're padding. But they cushion the blow that the blank page at the end brings.

Open endings leave us with a sense of unending terror, despair, hope for the future, or worry about the hard road ahead. They are harder to pull off and underutilized. For example, Megan Abbott's THE END OF EVERYTHING leaves a lot to our imagination, and is a better story for it.

In one of Lawrence Block's best entries in the Matt Scudder series, his most terrifying adversary escapes. I hated that and loved it at the same time. He was too good a character to kill off, and too devious to catch. The best Matt could do was make him leave town and find new victims.