Monday, August 01, 2011


by Gina Sestak

You did it.  You've written hundreds of pages.  You've plotted and planned and twisted the lives of your characters to the point where there is no place left to go except


Now what?  How do you craft an ending that will leave the reader feeling satisfied, not staring at the final page in puzzlement and saying, "Huh?"

I've been thinking about endings lately, ever since the final Harry Potter film appeared in theaters.

This film is the eighth - and last - of the Harry Potter films and, as endings go, it was OK.

Don't get me wrong.  It's a good movie.  The ending of the film, although superficially the same, is just not as satisfying as it is in the book.

But why should it be?  The book had time to explain everything and, by the time we get to Harry's final confrontation with Voldemort, we know everything that Harry has been trying to figure out since the beginning of Book One.  Harry knows, too, and it is this knowledge that gives him an edge in his confrontation with his older, more powerful nemesis.  We understand the magical effect of Lily's sacrifice and the intricacies of wand lore; we know the truth about Harry, and what Dumbledore has been grooming Harry for through all these years.  We've even learned Snape's motivation, and figured out why Neville - of all people! - found himself sorted into Gryffindor.  The loose ends have all been neatly crocheted into the tapestry, with none left flapping in the wind.

But there's more to the story than complicated plots and wizardry, memorable characters and fascinating creatures, the thing that makes this series more than just another ho-hum good guys vs. bad guys.   That something else is best expressed during the final confrontation, when Harry urges Voldemort to, "Think, and try for some remorse."  

What?  Voldemort murdered Harry's parents.  He has caused the deaths of Dumbledore and many of Harry's friends, not to mention trying to kill Harry throughout all seven books.  This is the point in the story when Harry should just slaughter him.  But Harry doesn't.  Not without giving him a chance to repent.  Voldemort, of course, villain that he is, rejects repentance as an option, but the fact that it was offered makes for a satisfying ending.

And I guess that's the hard part about finishing a book.  It needs that final finishing touch that pulls it all together, not just with logic but with that next best step beyond, the one that takes it to a higher level.  Do you agree?

How do you handle endings in your own books?


Annette said...

A good question, Gina. Note: whenever I say a question is a good one, it means I don't have an answer.

It's also a question I'm pondering myself. One of the editorial notes I received from the agent is that my ending needs work. So I'll be watching the comments here today and taking notes.

C.L. Phillips said...


I love this post, as I recently saw the film and reread the last couple of Harry books. Is it really over?

I shipped to beta readers last week, so I should be getting feedback on my ending. What did I do? Wrapped up some motivational loose ends, left open a little magic, and opened the door for a new adventure.

Of course, this isn't the last book in the series, but the first. :) Gotta leave a hint for the next book.

Would love to study this more.


Jenna said...

As it happens, I wrote The End on DIY-6 on Friday (and shipped it out to a couple of people to read). Then I started writing the next Cutthroat Business mystery.

There's a big difference between finishing a book and tying up a series, especially one like the Harry Potter books. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I thought the last book ended things brilliantly. Except for the 19 years later bit, anyway... When writing a book in a series, like C.L. said, it's important to tie up the loose ends - in a mystery, solving the mystery and explaining everything related to it would be necessary - but yet to leave enough other questions unanswered to open the door for another installment.

The last book in a series... I think having the questions answered, the story arc resolved, and the characters settled into some sort of normalcy, whatever that may be, would be the way to go. We'll see how I did when I get feedback on DIY-6.

Patg said...

Nothing compared to the first book and movie. They were all good, but those little cutie pies in the first were great.
Endings are not my problem. As writers we all get ideas about beginnings, so I write the ending right after that. Middles like Muggles and Mundanes are the problem.

Joyce said...

I tend to rush my endings in my first drafts. I'm usually so happy to be almost finished that I just want to get it over with. When I revise I end up adding quite a bit.