The end. It fails or succeeds. It completes or leaves hanging. It fulfills the promise or cheats the premise.
Reaching the end and closing with brilliance takes a wholly different set of masterstrokes. Anyone can begin a work, and most anyone can keep it going. Bringing it full circle is the provence of the devoted.
When you’re at the end of your cliff, do you give the hero wings? Do you paint his next adventure? Do you let him fall? Do you leave the chasm in the void? There’s no right answer, but an answer that doesn’t live up the journey leading to the cliff’s edge undermines the effort in getting there. In these cases, Occam’s Razor cuts backwards; the simplest answer is not always best.
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
Hi Writing All Wrong, I hope you can help me out here. Im halfway through my first fantasy novel and its going great. While I think I’ve mastered the meat of the story, I’d like to try to end it in a significant way. Since it’s about two warring kings who don’t know they’re brothers, I’m curious whether I should make more of a surprise ending (where one finds the other’s family heirloom on the other), or if I should go for a more triumphal sort of victory to end it? What do you think? Thanks.
—Josiah Sparks, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Remember, you can pick however you want to end this story. It doesn’t have to be anything worth reading. You’re shooting yourself in one foot already, while keeping the other in a bear trap. I think we can salvage the rest here.
Let’s list the predictable endings. Don’t use any of these.
1: King finds revelatory clue on the other king during battle, ends the war.
2: King finds revelatory clue on the other king during battle, kills him anyway, suspects fraud.
3: King finds revelatory clue on the other king during battle, gets killed by maniacal lieutenant.
4: King finds revelatory clue on the other king during battle, later kills his own “adopted” father for engineering war.
5: Yeah, I’m not discovering anything grand in the revelation sweep here.
6: The triumphal sort of victory. You can do better than this.
Now for the worthwhile endings, if you really want to craft something that you don’t want as a dust magnet on the shelf. That is, the shelf of your own house where you keep all the unsold copies of the book.
1: King kills king, only to have dying king claim to be his brother all along. (Wait for it…) In grief, king murders his “adopted” father and mother for pitting him against his brother (wait for it…), only to find that the dead king’s parents are the “real” “adopted” parents, who then claim (wait for it…) that his real brother wasn’t the dead king at all, but rather another king of a stronger rival kingdom that they feared would alliance with the “adopted” son’s “adopted” brother’s kingdom.
Then again, I’m not so sure about that one.
2: King reaches truce with rival king, as they discover they both came from a noble family of a third kingdom, which they once had mutually loathed, despised, and eventually eliminated. The animus turns to the respective sets of parents for their deception. Each king kills his own, thus fulfilling some sort of obscure prophecy that the third kingdom would rise from its death to engulf its tormentors. It is later revealed that the deception was a mind-altering curse of some sort, leaving the kings unknowingly guilty of wrongful patricide/matricide.
3: Kings battle with more fervency, driven to rage at the knowledge of their lost brotherhood. The revelation doesn’t halt the warfare. Kind of an anti-twist, left ambiguous. Pick your winner.
If I commandeered your novel, I’d go with this ending. It cannot be surpassed.
4: Each king finds that they cannot kill the other, no matter how fiercely they wound one another. This confirms what they both suspected to be true: they are in fact separate parts of a bifurcated soul. After performing an obscure ritual based on a lullaby sung by their respective parents, they fuse into one entity: the Overlord of the Realm. Taking a sober look back at their past, they (or he) begin(s) to realize that their (his) combined efforts were part of a larger plot to destroy the weaker kingdoms of the realm and eventually turn on one another’s kingdom. They soon discover the architect of the grand scheme: the Dragon Mage, Explausibius. He summons a dragon kingdom from another dimension, irrupting into the human kingdom universe to keep this newfound alliance from forming against him. Since his grand design failed, the Dragon Mage takes it upon himself to destroy the remaining armies sooner than expected. As the Overlord of the Realm and the Dragon Mage rage their war, they soon realize (again), that they’re unable to mortally wound the other. This confirms what neither of them suspected to be true: they are in fact two additional parts of higher bifurcated soul. By reciting forward and backward an obscure prophecy of dragons and men, they form into a unified OverMage of the Dragon Realm, Expossiblissimus. This transformation summons an even grander architect of evil, a Dark Celestial Mage, who—
Nevermind. This is going nowhere. Now that’s an ending for you.
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and fused into a celestial being if you sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to the tune of “Greensleeves.”