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The Subjectivity of Writing a Story Ending

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

Shakespeare once penned that, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” That was in the complicated tale of Romeo and Juliette, during the balcony scene.

Act II, Scene II, to be precise.

He also wrote that “A man can die only once,” and the same thing can be said about a manuscript. Just like a novel only has one beginning, one rising action segment, one climatic moment and one falling action part…

It only has one ending. So once it’s over, there’s no more to tell, at least as far as those pages go.

Oh, the story might have a sequel. But that’s going to have its own five-point plot to follow. And that’s another tale to tell altogether.

As for this one you’re working on right now, let’s end it with a bang!

Then again, maybe not.

Personally, as a writer, I’m not a big fan of writing endings. I’m brilliant at starting a story, but writing a novel ending isn’t my automatic happy place.

With that said, I do understand how to do it. I have no choice in the matter being in the business that I’m in and doing what I do.

So let’s discuss what “the end” really means when working on a fiction manuscript.

The ending of your story is the indisputable conclusion of the physical book (though perhaps not of the larger story): the spot in your narrative where you, the author, bring everything to an official close. That’s all she wrote, which means your manuscript is arguably completed.
There are many somewhat mix-and-matchable endings to choose from, such as teasers/cliffhangers and happily-ever-afters, and comedic, tragic, thought-provoking and entertaining finishes. It all depends on the writer’s mood and intent when he or she works on this final segment.

Actually, that last line is a little bit of a lie. There is another element that writers really should take into consideration in this regard.

But we’ll talk about that on Friday. For now, we’re going just going to discuss the basics.

The basics, admittedly, aren’t entirely set in stone.

For example, the very term “cliffhanger” is somewhat subjective. When I first published my historical fiction novel Maiden America, multiple people told me I ended it on a cliffhanger… harassing me until I wrote a sequel to clear up what they thought needed to be cleared up.

And while I maintain that it’s not a cliffhanger and they just lack imagination, they won out in the end. (Readers usually have a way of doing that, I’ve found. They’re stubborn little critters.)

Likewise, most of us today are more than willing to peg the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet as a tragedy. Yet according to literary circles, it’s not. Not for its time period-specific classification anyway.

For its time period-specific classification, it’s a tramedy. Or a comgedy.

Probably the latter, since comedies are classically defined as stories that end in marriages. And tragedies are ones that end in death. So Romeo and Juliet has a marriage that ends in death, hence the comgedy of it all.

In the same way, what you might mean to be thought-provoking could come across as a “no duh” deal for some readers. Or you could almost asphyxiate laughing while writing an ending, only to fail to entertain some people in your intended audience base.

You simply can’t please everyone. Nor should you try to.

So, for now, just end your first draft how you think you should end it. We can tweak (or completely revise) this short and (maybe) sweet segment as the week goes on.

Editor’s Note: Read the next post on story endings here.

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