“Whatever begins, also ends.” — Seneca
I’m finding as a writing teacher that fewer and fewer of my students instinctively understand the need for a real story conclusion, much less how it’s constructed.
I suppose that’s due in part to less reading, the popularity of series fiction, and the current way many television episodes are being written. In TV, story arcs now span whole seasons or even cover the entire duration of the show instead of episodes standing separately. As a result of this trend, TV characters may be more complex and dimensional than in the past, but they never finish much either. Some shows offer a semi-climax at the end of a season, but then leave questions hanging to bridge viewers to the next season. These hooks are effective in keeping viewers loyal to the show, and are similar to what authors of series novels do, but they don’t provide true endings. Other shows resolve a weekly subplot. My point is not to criticize TV, but to observe that viewers are exposed to fewer conclusive, climatic endings than before.
If you’re a fan of the Robert Jordan franchise of fantasy novels, you’re probably more into process than result. You don’t want the story to end, do you? So the series goes on and on and on …
But suppose you aren’t the creator of a hit television series like THE GOOD WIFE or BURN NOTICE. Suppose you aren’t Robert Jordan or Jim Butcher, with a highly successful series of novels.
Let’s say instead that you’re a writer trying to put a short story together. Or you’re a novelist trying to plan and plot a 300-page science fiction yarn about hostile aliens invading a prosperous colony world.
In such cases, you have to know that your protagonist will be the one to resolve the problem. You need to be trying to figure out how. You also need to know where your protagonist and antagonist are going to clash in a big finale.
In a stand-alone story or novel, you’re responsible for supplying an ending that’s complete by resolving the emotional issues as well as the central story question; providing readers with a cathartic experience; answering all the questions that were raised in the plot; and — most importantly — leaving a reader convinced that she got her money’s worth.
Exactly how is all that accomplished?
Stay tuned ….