You write a lot about endings and how important they are. I’m currently part of the way through my first book and was actually thinking about some of your advice. You seem to put a lot of stock in the ending, and I mean to the point where it’s the most important element to the story. I’m reminded of saying ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts’. I was actually wondering if you could explain a little more your thoughts on the subject, because at this point, I kind of disagree with you.
Thanks for the question. It’s fine that you disagree. Writing would be a completely boring job if everyone agreed. Honestly, the whole ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’ argument is one of those rare instances where it holds up in life, but not on paper. I can only speak for myself here, but in most cases, I find that people read stories to “see how it turns out” or “see what happens”. They want to get to the end of the story to have a complete, well-rounded, story and a sense of completion and finality. I’ll cite my inbox and the unending emails I got after Damnation’s open ending and my handling of Radley’s ultimate fate.
So it may sound pessimistic, but the idea that the journey matters more than the ending is true for life, but not true for stories, at least not in my experience. I mean in life, that’s clearly the case. I have no interest whatsoever in ‘seeing how it turns out’, I plan to live a very long time with more chapters than all my books combined.
In literature, it’s little more than a nice piece of sophistry. I can cite two pop culture references as proof. I’ve heard a number of people say this and honestly, I share their feelings… Let’s look at two perfectly good series with disastrous conclusions…
- Game of Thrones…
Yeah, this is the most obvious one. The ending was rushed by two creators that had other things they wanted to go out and do, and it showed. The ending could have worked had they taken the time to flesh out why Dani was going nuts. Having her suddenly go completely mad on a genocidal level because… her friend was murder and her nephew refused her sexual advances… yeah I think we’ll just leave it there. This ending, preluded by the slow downfall of the series when the source material ran out, made it virtually unwatchable.
I personally hate the first season and it wasn’t until season five was being filmed that my friends coaxed me back in… I wish they hadn’t. I got gripped by season three and thought, “Okay, now they’ve found their place. Here we go…”
Boy did I get that one wrong… Moving on…
- How I Met Your Mother…
This one royally pissed me off. One, because I’d watched the show from day one, and two because it never got bad. It was consistently funny throughout the entirety of the series… only to come crashing down right at the end.
After all that build up, after all that character development, after LITERALLY everything we’d waited and wanted for… it all came crashing down. Two main characters who were emotionally unstable and immature came together, grew together, got married… only to get divorced and go back to pretty much where they were in season one. The ‘mother’ we all waited for… died part way through the last episode and the kids kind of callously accepted their father’s pinning over an old flame, as well as the disregard of their mother in most of the story. All character development went out the window, and everything they went through pretty much didn’t matter at all.
What’s worse, this awful ending shined lights on other areas of the story that the writers may not intended, particularly just how awful some of the characters actually were.
This made a show that I had faithfully followed for 9 YEARS, completely unwatchable. Since then, I’ve literally had no desire what so ever to go back to the show.
This is why I say the ending is so important. You need a good beginning and a good body, but flaws in those areas are usually at least slightly forgivable. This is not the case in an ending. Unfortunately, we live in a time where writers substitute good writing with subverting expectations and think that if they do something unexpected, they’ve done something clever. This is not the case.
I’ll never understand why writers panic when people guess their plotlines. I had Rey pegged as a Palpatine pretty early in the series, did that affect my enjoyment of the Rise of Skywalker? Hell no, I cheered that I’d gotten it right. It actually made for an enjoyable watch to see how they worked through that.
Anyway, I hope that answers your question about why an awesome ending is absolutely essential to good writing. Readers, what are your thoughts? Am I right or way off?
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:
If you have read my books, PLEASE log into Amazon and post a review. I really love to hear everyone’s thoughts and constructive criticisms. Reviews help get my book attention and word of mouth is everything in this business!
Catch you on the flip side!
I kinda agree, but I think that both journey and destination are equally important. One without the other does not make for a well-received story. I’ve written about this before myself, the lost art of ‘The End’. So of course the journey should be important, but the ending is the last part of your book, which means it’s your last chance to make an impression. If you flub that, you’re going to leave a sour taste in readers’ mouths.
The end is important, but your reader isn’t going to sludge through to the end if the journey isn’t great. Looking at your examples above, I had a totally different reaction. Yes, both endings were not great, but I still love How I Met Your Mother. Game of Thrones was a good show, too. Rushed at the end, but I don’t regret watching it. If I get to the end of a book and didn’t love the end, I’ll say it was a great book, except…. If I’m unimpressed in chapter 3 or 8, I just won’t finish it.
See often, if the book starts out well and then starts getting slow mid way through, I’ll sludge through it just to see if it get’s better.
Usually if it doesn’t, oh well, I’m not all that disappointed. My main gripe is when a story gets you hooked, is good, but then completely tanks at the ending. HIMYM is a little more notorious for this than game of Thrones, after GoT started its decline in season 5.
For me, if it’s really good and ends horribly… I’ve found that it will completely turn people off to it.
I get it. I do feel that way when a book series ends poorly, because by then I’ve poured a lot of time into it only to realize the author probably didn’t actually know where he or she was going with it. Either that or it took off and the publisher didn’t care to let the author take the necessary time to make it good.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Reblogged this on Griffin's Nest and commented:
I totally agree with Mr. Harrington on this!! Please read, it’s worth it!!
The saying about life being the journey, not the destination is misleading. Our lives (whether we realize it) are usually organized in chapters (or sequels) in which we achieve or experience something important or formative and reach an ending, which takes us into the next chapter – that collection of endings is the journey.
A story has much the same flow, except you do want to structure it so the final “ending” is more interesting than “and then he spent the next five years going to work every day until he died in bed”, so in that sense you do want the story’s ending to be special (you can rarely make that happen in life, which is why we console ourselves with the expression (it doesn’t help that we rarely know WHEN life’s ending will be…)