Whether you’re writing a stand-alone novel, an 7 book/tv-season long show, or a 22 movies long franchise, you’ve got to get the ending right.
All the endings right.
Otherwise? Your readers or viewers will feel cheated.
So, every novel, episode, and season needs its own arc with a solid ending. But? The serieses that linger in people’s hearts and minds are often the ones in which the overarching themes and goals are wrapped up the right way in the last book.
Of course, that’s not saying you can’t set up a new story arc in that last book/episode/movie…
What type of ending you need depends on what sort of story you have, but you’re going to need at least 2 of these ingredients.
The 5 Ingredients Of A Satisfying Ending
Plot goals achieved
This is the easiest one to accomplish. You’ve set out to complete a mission, a goal, and you’ve achieved it.
We’re going to get that boy. We’re going to find out who gets to sit on the Iron Throne. We’re going to find out how to defeat whatever big-bad the universe has cooked up for us this time.
Sometimes, there’s a twist. Maybe you find what you thought you wanted isn’t satisfying. It’s okay to change goals in your story, as long as it makes sense for the world and the characters. It still counts.
Remember that twist I just mentioned? Most stories have at least one character that’s going to grow and change. Sometimes they have to mature. Sometimes, they suffer traumas that they need to work through. And sometimes? They’ve got to accept themselves, before they can become the person they were always meant to be.
When we see a character learn the true extent of their capacity for compassion or greatness, it’s… it’s like a warm tasty pie. Delicious and warm and filling.
Many stories keep us going with relationship issues. Be they friendships, rivals, family, or romantic issues. The ending doesn’t have to be a happy one, but it should have some sort of closure, even if it’s simply a character recognizing that they don’t need the other character any more.
But making amends, getting that happily-ever-after, or even, getting that nod of approval from a mentor, those are the things that can give us a solid ending.
Getting more esoteric, let’s talk about themes. Many themes are relationship based — family, trust, love. But not all. Faith, justice, and freedom can be themes.
These endings have to be carefully done, or they can read like a morality play. But, like Sam on Mount Doom, loyalty and perseverance can pay off.
It’s hard to find a good ending without some sort of sacrifice — or at least some solid compromise. The greater the odds, the more the characters have to suffer and pay to achieve the ending. If the success at the end comes too easily, the reader will feel cheated. Like the odds weren’t as tough as they were told. The challenges were too easy for the characters.
And sacrifice can be used as a symbol of … well, many things. When Gollum leaps into the lava, we lose Smeagol, who had been fighting so hard to do what’s right. When Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web passes, it’s her gracious way of accepting the inevitability, and nature’s way of bringing in the new generation.
Sacrifices should follow the theme and rise to the level of the stakes.
If you can weave together plot goals achievements, personal growth, relationship closure, thematic ties, and sacrifice, readers should be able to appreciate your ending. Even if it makes them cry.
Are there any other ingredients you appreciate at the end of your stories?
What story do you think has done it the best?
(Please, don’t give any Endgame spoilers or current Game Of Thrones spoilers until AFTER May)