The Point Might Be the Journey, but the Destination Still Matters

A book’s ending has to satisfy. You want to close the door on your story in a way that lets the reader move on, knowing it’s finished. Maybe you conclude on a question or open a new door, but either way you turn out the lights and close up shop. Something has to indicate that a book is done. In a series you might leave with a cliffhanger or a new development, a wrinkle that will grow into the next book’s conflict.

Endings are tricky things. A good one leaves you with a positive remembrance of the book. Bad endings can make the entire exercise of reading the story unfulfilling, like a long meal capped with a flavorless dessert. When I look back on the books that really captured my attention, their endings are usually strong. They evoke emotion years later, such as in Three Junes when two major characters drive into New York. When I try to specifically think of books whose endings were weak, I have a harder time. The books themselves are less memorable. Some books, Smilla’s Sense of Snow comes to mind, do not seem to know where to end. They just come to an abrupt stop. Cliffhangers that are never resolved trouble me the most. Much like a television series which is suddenly canceled, you’re left wondering how the story ended.

In fantasy, the story is too often a showcase for the world, a vast travelogue for amazing places and robust vistas. Endings can become less important. The longer a series, the more epic the scope, the more weight gets placed on the climax and the subsequent conclusion. The payoff has to be worth the buildup, or the reader is let down. I often find that the climax isn’t the part that sticks with us. The villain is defeated, the world saved, but there’s always that little moment after that truly settles in as the bit we remember. The ending has the opportunity to sound a little quieter, The heroes retire. Luke joins his circle of friends at the campfire. Terry Brooks seems fond of marrying his heroes, giving them a reason to leave the adventuring life behind. Jim Grimsley, ended Dream Boy with a mystery that I still ponder to this day.

Beginnings are when you hook the reader, drawing them in. Middles are where you hold them. It’s crucial that you don’t lose them when the pace slows a little and the characters catch their breath. But every part of a story is important, so don’t forget the ending.

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