Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Say Goodbye Already

Like anything else in life, your novel has to end sometime. Some of my writer friends know exactly how they plan on ending their novel before they even begin writing it. Their outlines will actually have the final line written. My other writer friends never know how they will finish their novels. While I don’t necessarily know the exact final line, I generally do know how my story will end, so that I know what I’m working towards.

Typically, there are five kinds of endings:

1. The lead gains their objective

2. The lead loses their objective

3. The lead gains their objective but loses something more valuable

4. An ambiguous ending

5. The lead sacrifices their objective for a greater cause

Sometimes, if I’m really stumped as to how to end a short story, novel, or screenplay, I look to writers I admire and flip through their works to their endings. Here are some of my all-time favorite last lines:

“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” (Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable)

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” (Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises)

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

“Are there any questions?” (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale)

“He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.” (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein)

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye)

astly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)


Frank Leigh said...

Geez...this post made me realize I need to focus on a clearer objective for my protagonists. I suppose they're all looking for happiness/enlightenment in a broader sense (like myself). What type of ending would you suggest for someone writing a sequel or series?

I always look to other writers for inspiration...especially with plot structure and other technical skills I may be lacking due to a lack of formal training. I have all the words but I just need to make them all come together in a great a fill-it-in puzzle.

I love all of your favourite last lines. I recently read Catcher in the Rye and couldn't understand the hype...I didn't love it. You reminded me how much I adored Frankenstein and I'd love to read it again soon.

Thanks!! I love all of your tips and I enjoy seeing what inspires other writers :)

Lorna London said...

Hey Frank Leigh...thanks for stopping by! I actually completed the sequel to my middle grade novel, and I found that the first manuscript's ending is a bit ambiguous, with a hint of a sequel. I think that would be ideal when writing a sequel or series...leave some ambiguity. I would avoid tying all the loose ends.

You brought up a great point regarding your characters' objectives. Their goals and desires should be very clear in your may help to write their biggest goal and their biggest challenge and keep those near you (perhaps even written on a white board in front of your desk).

Thanks again for your great comments!