Creating a strong ending for a story is, in my opinion, one of the most intimidating acts of writing ever devised.
In my head, I know that beginnings are more important. They’re what hook readers or drive them away. They set up the whole rest of the plot for success or failure, the characters to be adored or despised, the setting to be believable or unbelievable.
Beginnings are perhaps the most important part of a story, and yet, they don’t bother me one bit. I could write a couple dozen of them right now off the top of my head. And they’d be attention-grabbing too.
But endings? Oh, how I hate them.
And I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Since last weekend featured a Friday the 13th, two friends and I decided to watch a scary movie. Their choice was Ouija: Origin of Evil, which is about a little girl who gets possessed through a – yup. You guessed it – Ouija board. Mine was Don’t Breathe about three idiot teenagers who try to rob a blind vet, only to find out he’s not nearly as helpless as they believe.
Since Rotten Tomatoes gave Don’t Breathe a really good rating (and because watching entertainment-intended movies where children get hurt makes me really uncomfortable), we went with my choice.
As it turned out, Rotten Tomatoes was wrong, and I’ll never trust it again. Don't Breathe turned out to be a total waste of a Friday the 13th. The beginning was lame. The middle wasn’t suspenseful at all. And the ending was an obvious attempt to set up a sequel that will probably never appear.
Needless to say, I felt bad about suggesting it in the first place.
Knowing how remorseful I was, my friends sent me the following message the next evening:
“Don’t worry about Don’t Breathe being disappointing. We just watched the other scary movie, which was great until the ending… They bombed it!”
While I wasn’t expecting to hear that, I’m also not surprised when so many other stories – whether in book or movie form – leave audiences going, “Really? Really! That was it?”
Let’s face it. It happens all the time.
And while I’m the first person to criticize a bad published ending, I always remember how difficult they can be to construct and how stressful it can be to get them right. I mean, these are the very last words that writers leave their readers and watchers with in a story.
Talk about pressure! On top of that, there are multiple questions a writer has to ask while developing a worthwhile ending, including:
Do I want to leave my audience shocked or satiated?
Is this for entertainment only, or am I trying to make people think?
If there's a moral to the story, has it been established enough that any further mention is going to be too cheesy or preachy?
Do I intend to write a sequel, or is this a stand-alone creation?
How realistic should it be, or does a happily-ever-after apply?
The list goes on further from there, but hopefully you get the point.
Endings are hard to do. Yet they really are worth all the work and thought and potential therapy sessions they require to get down just right…
Plus, if you give them the time and effort they deserve, you’ll never have to worry about someone summing up your movie or book or play like this: “It was great until the ending… Then they bombed it!”