Fiction Focus- Tying Up Loose Ends
So, you reach the end of your story. Your novel is a sprawling work of epic genius with dozens of plotlines finally converging on one moment, and then declining from there. You have “loose ends” to tie up. Whatever happened to that dwarf in the cellar? Why was he there? From whom were the letters in the locked cabinet? Where do all the characters end up as the story closes?
We crave closure in a lot of things, including books. If I finish a particularly good series, I want to know where each character lands after the plot whirlwind. I’d preferably like them all to be happy, or at least have the questions raised about them answered by the time I put the book down.
But it’s a difficult balance to strike. One of my least favourite features of the Twilight series was the way it ended. Practically nobody got a real ending except the main characters. And afterwards, Stephenie Meyer said, “Well, that’s not how life works, not everybody gets their happy ending at once.”
And of course she was right, but it still got to me. Why spend time in your books questioning someone’s paternity if you never find out who the father was?
So it can be really frustrating to never find out all these things. But it’s all about striking a balance: equally when a book ends with everybody either dead or paired up with each other and everything is done and dusted it makes me want to vomit. Because life is not neat and tidy. Not everybody mates for life with another character from a small group of people. Not everything has an ending. It can often seem contrived, forced, trite.
So what’s the best thing to do?
Sometimes, Chekhov’s gun is a good rule of thumb. If you hang a rifle on the wall in the first scene of the novel, someone better be shot with it later on in the novel. Don’t write yourself into difficulties by writing too many plots that can’t all be finished properly.
One of the best endings I’ve ever read is to the Curseworkers trilogy by Holly Black. Obviously I’m not going to give away the ending, but it’s good. Black uses those free ends to tie each other up, and the result is incredibly satisfying. And while there’s no doubt that they live happily ever after, exactly how they do so is a mystery. The balance is struck. The story is closed- but not the lives of the characters.
To what degree do you believe a story should be closed? Can you think of any examples of an ending done well- or one that went wrong?