Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The End

I’m neck-deep in Bob’s climax now; the end is so close I could drown in it. Still, I’m not completely satisfied with it, and I don’t think it’s completely satisfied with me (which is why it’s trying to drown me). Me and endings get along about as well as Edward and Jacob--which is to say, we’d really like to kill each other, but for our protagonists’ sake, we don’t.

As Abby Stevens mentioned in her comment on Myrna’s post, endings should flow naturally out of the storyline; they should be the inevitable crescendo the rest of the book has been driving at. They tie the interior and exterior action into one tidy bundle, and the best ones leave us with a soft sigh of satisfaction as we close the book for the last time.

So what makes endings so tricky? They should just pour straight out of the book, right? Maybe it’s this expectation, this fear of getting it wrong, that trips me up. So as much for me as anyone, I’m going to look at some classic books with classic endings, and describe how they got it right.

1. ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card: The plot of Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece is riveting, the characters memorable, but it’s the ending that really takes this book from good to great. When it comes to endings with a twist, this is one of the first that springs to mind, and yet the ending doesn’t feel contrived. Ender and his team of child warriors do exactly what we think they’ll do: They annihilate the Bugger threat. It’s the how that takes us by surprise.

2. THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins: Another superb example of a climax that flows naturally out of the story’s setup. Because Suzanne Collins outlines the rules of the Hunger Games early on, we know exactly how the book will end: Every tribute, save one, will die. Still, the scene doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it is more complex, and has a much more far-reaching impact, than we ever could have imagined.

3. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee: Talk about tying the interior and exterior action into one tidy bundle, not to mention two seemingly divergent storylines. When I read this book in junior high, I didn’t appreciate how masterfully its climax resolves Scout’s years-long fascination with Boo Radley, the fallout from Tom Robinson’s trial, and Harper Lee’s overall theme about killing mockingbirds. It’s a not-too-big-not-too-small conclusion that is as beautiful as it is haunting. (That final scene on Boo Radley’s porch, in which Scout sees her world through his eyes, remains one of the finest moments in all of literature for me.)

Of course, there are hundreds more examples of fantastic endings, but I’ll leave those to you. What endings have left you with that satisfying sigh, and why?


Myrna Foster said...

I mentioned HOLES, by Louis Sachar, in a post recently. I love the way he ties together the past and present and resolves the gypsy's curse. LOVE!

And the last book in the Dragonback series, by Timothy Zahn, had all kinds of lovely twists. There was one that I almost saw coming. It made complete sense. Those are my favorite kind--where you think you know what's going on, and then the author drops a whammy.

Myrna Foster said...

J.K. Rowling is a master of that kind of ending.

Krista V. (the former Krista G.) said...

Myrna, HARRY POTTER does have some fantastic endings. Another great thing about that series is how each book is a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and climax, and yet they still work so well together to tell a larger story.

And I just ordered the first in that Timothy Zahn series from the library. I'm looking forward to it.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I loved your comparison to Edward and Jacob. Ending are definitely not easy to write.

Liesl said...

I like all your examples.

Though it wasn't one of my favorite books, I was very impressed with the ending of THE DEMON'S LEXICON by Sarah Reese Brennan. And I have to include ELLA ENCHANTED because it's my answer for everything.

KLM said...

Getting the ending right is like landing that triple axel at the Olympics! So many talented writers' endings go splat and leave you will a sense of disappointment. Sometimes I wonder why agents put so much emphasis on great openings. It's great endings that are hard!

That probably didn't help you one little bit, did it? :)

OK, weirdly enough, the word verification word to post this comment is "hydra" -- I can't help thinking there's some hidden meaning there. Hmmm....

Krista V. (the former Krista G.) said...

Yeah, Stina, that Edward/Jacob comparison just seemed too appropriate:)

Liesl, I agree - THE DEMON'S LEXICON was a little too dark for me, but the ending was spot-on. (Although, since I read her agent's blog, I knew there was going to be a twist at the end, so I was watching for one - and figured it out about two-thirds of the way through. When they were making that ferry crossing...)

KLM, you solved all my problems - my ending needs a hydra! :)