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Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Importance of a Good Ending


Two years ago as I prepared to teach a Fiction Writer’s workshop, I did a reader survey, asking them to tell me “The 3 Things That Matter Most to Fiction Readers.” I gave them a list of 7 things to pick from. The third-highest vote-getter was: “Must have a Satisfying Ending.”

A good ending was definitely on my Top 3 list. My wife's list, also. It would be safe to say we both HATE bad endings in our books and our movies. This brief equation would sum things up for me:


 
A Good Story + A Bad Ending  = A Bad Story

It spoils the whole thing for me when a writer hasn’t thought through how to create a satisfying ending to their story. And I never, recommend a book or a movie that has a lousy ending. Which is another good reason to learn how to write a solid ending…it’s good business (i.e. it helps increase sales). The late NY Times bestselling crime novelist Mickey Spillane said it this way:

Nobody reads a novel to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If the ending’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book.” 

                                                                                        ―Mickey Spillane

Armed with the results of my survey, I set out to do some research and create my outline on “How to Write a Satisfying Ending.” But guess what I found? Almost nothing. That's right. I have collected about a dozen how-to books on writing fiction well. To my surprise, only ONE had any chapters on writing a good ending. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe that’s why I’ve read (and watched) so many stories that begin well and end poorly.

So, I dug deeper and eventually came up with some great tips to share about how to write a satisfying ending to a novel. I can only share a brief overview in this blog post (compared to how much time I had teaching the workshop). I'll share a few things now and next month share some more.

Are you writing a Comedy or a Tragedy?

How many of you have ever seen the Happy/Sad Masks of Comedy and
Tragedy? During the days of Classical Theater, people used to ask this question: “Is this story a comedy or a tragedy?” What they were really asking about was the ending.

Does the main character achieve his/her goal? Will they solve their main problem, overcome their biggest challenge? If the story is a romance, will they get the girl (or will the girl get the guy)? If the answer was “Yes,” then it was a Comedy (even if it wasn’t funny). If the answer was “No,” then it was a Tragedy.

In the classical sense then, I am clearly an advocate for the Comedy. In my books I always shoot for a Happy Ending. Notice I said happy (not sappy). I’m not talking about everything ending up all unicorns and rainbows.


Remember how all the old Disney stories used to end? “…And they lived Happily Ever After.” I’m not sure we can write stories that end THAT happily anymore (not the way people are wired today). Having said that, I think a lot of the stories coming out today are WAY too dark, and the endings often leave the reader stuck there in that darkness.

In part, I can understand why. Life is hard and for many people, it’s been hard for a long time. For many writers, a happy or hopeful ending comes off as fake or forced because, let's face it, we all know “life just doesn’t turn out that way.” They view dark endings as just being “realistic” and “relevant.” 


I do think it’s important for our stories to depict honestly and accurately the difficult and harsh realities of life. The dark days. But I also think good fiction can lead people from that dark place to a place of hope.

In my books, I show life as difficult and as hard as it really is. I just choose not to have my stories END AT THAT PLACE. I keep writing until HOPE is born. I am a Christian, after all, and have been for over 40 years. This really has been the story of my life, and the life-story of hundreds of people I have known. 


I thought I’d end this post with a quote from a movie my wife and I watched this week called “Fugitive Pieces.” It’s based on an award-winning novel by Anne Michaels published in 1998. The story is filled with tragedy but also with hope. At one point, a wise old man encourages a young boy to write, as a means of helping him cope with his dark experiences. The boy seems puzzled about how this could possibly help.

The man says, "There is an old saying: the greatness of wood is not that it
Finding Riley pic
burns, but that it floats. Meaning, there is a good and bad side to everything. You can choose to see what destroys something or what saves it
."

I instantly resonated with this advice and realized... this is what motivates me to write the kind of stories I write (Warning: Blatant Book Plug coming)…including my newest novel, Finding Riley, which JUST RELEASED THIS WEEK. It’s my 17th novel, Book 2 in the Forever Home series (sequel to Rescuing Finley but can easily be read as a stand-alone). And to top it off, it’s also a Christmas novel (my 5th).

You can check it out by CLICKING HERE (available on Kindle or print).







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Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Reunion and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times) and 3 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (RT Book Reviews). Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take walks and spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books

1 comments:

Normandie Fischer said...

So true, Dan. I can't even bring myself to read stories that end darkly. And you're absolutely right: it's up to those of us who live in hope to share that hope with others.