Every story has an ending, that much is a given. But as to what sort of ending, we can’t ever be sure. Unless, of course, we are writing our story and have control over its resolution. But just like in life, endings aren’t always tidy and they aren’t always as we expect them to be.
Now some stories are expected to have happy endings–or at least, a predictable formula. Disney movies rarely end badly. (Even though they can still start out pretty rough, ie Bambi, Cinderella, Finding Nemo, etc.)
For a writer, the question of how to end our stories is complicated. Do we want to portray real life, and show the unpredictability of it? Or do we want to give our readers the security of knowing that they can expect a sigh of relief as they round the final corner?
But is giving our readers a tidy, shiny, happy ending best serving them?
I don’t always think so. In the first few drafts of Little Gale Gumbo, I went the predictable route. That’s not to say the story wasn’t without its drama and tension, but the ending always seemed a little too neat, and I came to realize that there was far more emotional impact and staying power in an ending that didn’t leave my characters “settled.” I think we can all agree, there is a certain degree of authenticity that comes from a book with untidy endings; endings where all lovers aren’t reunited, where arguments and riffs aren’t mended, where people die or leave, just to name a few examples.
For myself, I’ve read books that I’ve loved as I read them, but that ended in such an unsettling way that I couldn’t get past my feelings of despair to see beyond it. But is that not the goal of an author? To create a story that will affect the reader, and linger long after the book is closed?
So my question to all of you writers: How do you like your endings? Have you ever grappled with an ending that was less than tidy, less than happy? How did you resolve your dilemma?
As readers, have you ever found yourself unsettled or even disappointed in an ending because it didn’t end neatly/expectedly?
*Recipe for Garlic Martini
1 oz. juice from Trader Joe’s Colossal Olives Stuffed with Garlic Cloves
1 1/2 to 2 oz. of Gin
shake in shaker with ice, pour into glass with olives