|Image by Gerd Altmann|
As a publisher, editor and creative writing teacher I frequently notice that though many people write extremely well, their story may lack shape and more often than not it is the ending that lets it down.
There are four main faults.
Oh, was that it? Nothing has actually happened; there is no change from how the story started. A useful question here might be: has the main character changed as a result of this story? Has she grown? Has she moved on?
I recently asked a “literary” writer what made his novel literary. He replied that one clue is that the reader can skip to the last page and it doesn’t spoil the rest of the novel. Does this contradict what I’ve just said?
Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps this type of novel shows us how rather than what.
The ending can be over dramatic and unbelievable. Could that really happen? Isn’t this all a bit sudden? It’s best to think of logistics here and then also to check back into your text that you’ve posted all the necessary clues.
Deus ex machina
A fabulous contraption flies a god or goddess on to the stage. S/he waves their magic wand and all is well. The protagonist hasn’t had to work for their living.
Note that Dickens, Molière and Shakespeare are all guilty of this. We often see it in pantomimes as well. By strange coincidences long lost relations show up and solve all of the protagonist’s problems.
You have to put the protagonist through their paces. Note how the mentors in the best stories usually disappear leaving the protagonist to work on their own. Think of Cinderella, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
This is different from an open ending. Open endings are particularly common in YA books. This is an area I know well. The protagonist is left with several possibilities but we don’t know which will happen. The reader may decide. There is usually some hope and some closure. One of my own novels The House on Schellberg Street received one review that said it had no proper ending. I’m not entirely convinced that that is true. The protagonist is left with a question. The reader knows something she doesn’t know. It’s not a particularly comfortable ending but at least we have seen her grow. Importantly she has also come home and realised that her roots remain important.
The overall message seems to be that we must allow our protagonist to grow. That is what the story-aware reader expects.