Lest you think I've gone all gloom-and-doom on you, or worse, religious,* I've got a lighter topic for today.
Well, lighter is probably a matter of opinion, because it's on writing, and if my hit counter is any indication, then we** tend to take writing very seriously. For instance, I wrote a little post along about 8 October entitled submitting to magazines 101. I generally see about 100-200 hits a day. For about three days in mid-October, it spiked to over 500 per day!
"Holy Guacamole!" said Skippy Jon Jones.
The only thing I could trace it to is that post on submitting. Apparently about 1600 strangers were fascinated with the subject, because I just don't think all the weird coincidences with my book entranced the masses like that. Of course, stupidly, I had to go and write that I was taking a break about three days later.*** That's okay. I'm from Colorado and we tend to run off newcomers. The mountains are mine-all-mine, so go away.
Today I'm going to explore endings, for two reasons. One, I think they're a bitch. Two, I'm working on the ending of my book. And, did I mention I think they're a bitch? I have a steadfast rule to which I've adhered lo these many... years. Yeah, we'll go with years. I don't start books or stories before I know the ending. I have a hard-drive full of unfinished works (who among us do not?) and enough is enough. So now I think and I think and I think until I've thunk up an ending.
There are a few schools of thought on endings. There's the "leave it open for a sequel" ending, favored by movie producers in Hollywood and most fantasy writers. There's the Tragedy, in which Romeo and Juliet's love never had a prayer against the enmity of their families, or in "To Stop A War," some grunt with a gun was never going to stop an entire war. You go in knowing, hoping against hope, but knowing anyway, that it Won't End Well. These must be crafted carefully, because one thing a tragic ending should never be is a surprise.
There's the Trick Ending, sometime called the Double Ending, in which our, oh hell, I'll just say it, Heroine gets all of what she thought she wanted, has it ripped from her and then get what she really wanted in the last 2 or 3 chapters. This is favored by some romance writers. Don't scoff--they sell more books than the rest of us combined. Yeah, you heard me right. I've heard astounding statistics. Feel free to provide some if you've collected any lately.
And then there's what I call the Cascading Ending, in which the Protag falls off a cliff during a fight, must catch a branch and scramble their way back up, despite slippery wet rocks and certain death waiting below on the jagged river-bottom, in one chapter, no less, in order to achieve their Heart's True Desire. This ending makes a hero/ine face their fear of heights and overcome it in order to gain HTD.
I like a combination, and many of the best books utilize aspects of more than one type. I generally leave room for a sequel, even in Hinterland, which a stand-alone. More on that in a moment. My heroes also tend to suffer grave losses that cannot be recovered--so all my endings include some form of Tragedy. They generally run like this:
Resolution of the Main External Conflict(s). This is the crawl-through-the-mud, last-dregs-of-energy, final-show-down Moment. Our hero/ine knows the Enemy and has overcome (hopefully) well-drawn faults, fears, and trials to win victory over the Antagonist.
Time of Recovery. This is the final chapter in which all the Internal Conflicts are resolved.
In Hinterland, Sean overcomes the Mance-King, become the Gods' Champion, as he resisted and they intended, and embraced his role as Prince. He has achieved vengeance for his murdered wife and finally laid her to rest. He sets things right in Hinterland. But. His heart is still a-churnin'. There's a matter of a missing sister, an aloof Queen, an unburied father... All these symbolize his Internal Conflicts, and the resolution is not satisfying until these ICs are settled.
One chapter can seem like a slight to the most important thing in the book: the protag's growth. However, if you think of External Conflicts as a sort of metaphor for the Internal Conflicts, then you realize your protag been working to that point all along. Having faced down the worst the world has to throw at them puts internal struggles into perspective.
There's a good reason why so many books are laid out in this manner: this form echoes real life. People come to crisis, only to re-embrace their forgotten faith. Marriages on the brink of divorce have been healed by illness. When we gain a certain age and face our mortality, we realize our lives have not followed our hearts.
Or, as in my current book, Aidan and Kaelin must use frightening, powerful talents they've denied their entire lives, and become orphans in the process (facing adulthood), to win the first battle in a war.
This is a solid resolution schematic, one that provides satisfaction to the reader and wraps up the major loose ends without playing "tricks" on the reader. As for sequels, it's a sketchier thing to leave a major character or issue hanging. Generally what works well is to leave unanswered questions about the secondary cast, or leave historical/heritage/growth issues that will affect the protag in later challenges. Each book must reach a certain level of resultant growth though. The second book in my series is a cliffhanger, but Aidan makes a figurative and literal leap--he commits himself to defeating his enemy unto death. If you've a stand-alone, like Hinterland, and you want to revisit the world, often the conflicts and questions arise from the world itself. Just like in the real world, no character and no culture can be, or should be, completely known. Letting readers sense the presence of the unknown is what makes really good world-building effective. The same holds for characters. As human beings, we are never finished until we die (and sometimes not even then). I believe any world we create, and any character, should be worth revisiting, even if it never happens. Consider it a test of quality.
*I've always been spiritual. In my experience, spiritual means you don't talk about faith and religious means you do.
**We, as in the collective You, of course.***Obviously having NOT checked my hit counter.