Endings, Part 2: Types of Endings

Since my last post on endings got too long, I had to split it up. Don’t worry, this one is like half as long. You can read Part 1 here. Today, I’d like to focus on four different types of endings.

First, the epilogue. Should you have one? Depends, really. If you have a prologue, you could do a matching ending and have an epilogue. But then again, lots of people say don’t do prologues, so perhaps that holds true for epilogues, too. Personally, I think it’s fine to do prologues and epilogues as long as they are necessary and they add something to the story. Epilogues, to me, are really just like a bonus chapter. Just something a little extra that adds some more insight to the characters that you normally wouldn’t have. However, bonuses also can be unnecessary, so be careful with that.

How do you define necessary, though? Some people define it by saying it adds something to plot. That definitely works, but I think you prologues and epilogues often serve more to benefit the characters and the emotional undertones of the story. For example, in a novel I wrote, I included a prologue and an epilogue of my protagonist making an observation of her life before the story happened and how she lived in fear and then after the story happened and how she was now content with her life. The prologue gave us a background and a stepping stone into the story and the epilogue told us where the protagonist now stood (because she never said she was now content in the actual story itself). So yes, I do believe prologues and epilogues can be useful.

Next, I would like to talk about cliffhangers. First in the essence of series. Should you leave your book on a cliffhanger? It’s really a tempting idea. We, as the readers, hate it when authors do that. But we, as authors, love torturing our readers. Cliffhangers are interesting little endings, really. They don’t generally happen in the middle of a climax, but after, when the characters think things have calmed down only to be surprised by a violent twist in the plot and — the end! And we have to wait a whole year for the next book . . .

So should you end one of your books in a cliffhanger? I think that’s a personal decision, really. I don’t think you should end the final book of your series in a cliffhanger because 1) that’s just mean and 2) there will be a revolution and 3) that will prove to be an awful ending and will backfire on you. However, the others are fine (in trilogies, the second books most often are the ones ended in cliffhangers).

Second, pertaining to stand-alones, should you end your book in a cliffhanger? Well. I can’t say I’ve read many stand-alone novels that end in such a way. There are many short stories that end that way. But novels? It’s hard to write a good, long novel and then end it on a cliffhanger. So should you? Again, it’s a personal decision. You might have angry fans, but if you feel it’s the right decision for your book, then by all means, do it. If you feel that your book is calling you to do it, that it leaves the right resonance with your readers, go ahead. You are the author. Never forget that.

Third, I’d like to talk about tragic endings. Where things don’t go right. Someone dies. The couple doesn’t get together. The protagonist doesn’t get what he/she wants. The horror. I admit, I haven’t read many stories with tragic endings. However, one thing I know is that even with tragedy, remember that there must be some happiness or hope or light somewhere. Death and grief and rage happen. Life goes on. People deal with it all the time. It’s harsh, it’s cruel. But it’s true, and perhaps that’s what makes it a tragedy. I read once, when writing particularly intense scenes, to focus on the small, seemingly unimportant details. I thought that this seemed like ingenious advice. Because, really, it’s the stupid, small things we think of rather than the important things. What incredible advice.

Finally, the fourth type of ending I’d like to focus on is the open-ended. There are two kinds of open-ended: the really vague and the only slightly vague. By “really vague,” I mean the type that sort of ends on a cliffhanger and totally leaves you with an ambiguous ending. By “slightly vague,” I mean the kind that doesn’t exactly tell you what’s going to happen, but hints at the character’s most likely decision. Open-endings kind of drive me nuts, honestly. I know the author is just like, “I want the reader to choose!” but I’m one of those people who are just like, “But I don’t want to choose — I want you to choose for me ’cause I’m so bad at choosing and I have no idea and you’re the author! You know what really happens anyway!” That being said, I do respect their decision and I do see what they mean by an extent. I would even consider doing an open ending myself someday.

I think, with open endings, resonance will be especially important. If you are wanting the reader to choose an ending, or have a specific ending in mind, you will definitely want them to feel something, right? Stylistically, you’ll want to be very careful with your words. Pointing them in a certain direction will be hard, but readers are smart, too, and if you place the right clues, they can figure it out. Never make it too obvious.

So what do you think about these four alternate endings? Think about trying one of them out, or are you already planning on doing one of them? How is that going for you? Have you read any of books that have used these endings before? How did they pull that off (good or bad)?

Once again, thank you for reading!

Hoping all your writing endeavors are going well and that this has benefitted you in some way,

~ J. Dominique

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6 thoughts on “Endings, Part 2: Types of Endings

  1. I know some people who don’t read prologues, and skip right to the story. This sometimes leaves stories hard for them to follow. Prologues are hit or miss for me like you mentioned. They’re fine so long as they add something to the narrative. There doesn’t seem to be nearly so much controversy around epilogues, and I write them sometimes, but not others.
    Most of the tragic endings I’ve read have been classic novels or plays (most recently Hamlet, Oedipus Rex, and 1984). As was shown by the reaction to the ending of a certain popular dystopian trilogy sad endings don’t seem to sit nearly so well with a modern audience.
    I don’t tend to leave cliff hangers because I tend to write as if my manuscript could be a series or a stand alone. I do, however, sometimes leave cliff hangers between chapters.
    I sometimes leave short stories open ended, but not novel length works. Although I do try to leave enough unexplained for possible sequels.

  2. The best advice I was given about prologues is that is you have to tell it, it’s not a prologue, it’s chapter 1. If you don’t need to tell it, don’t tell it. Prologues to me are a different animal, which is why all my books have them, and will continue to. For me, prologues are like stingers at movies, the extra scenes after the credits. I love those, and I like giving my readers the same feel. You could skip mine and not miss anything, but it gives you a little something extra if you, usually a hint about what’s coming in the next book.
    This, and part 1, are nicely informative posts. Well done. I agree with you about tragic endings as well. There has to be something. The book doesn’t need to end with sundaes, unicorns, and rainbows, but if there’s no hope, or even hope for hope, I feel robbed.

    • Yes, I agree. Prologues may not be necessary but they do sometimes add a little something extra — a feeling you can’t get anywhere else.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • They can, I just feel that sort of thing work better inside the story. Unless your Tolkien. Haha
        You’re welcome. Nice blog! And good article, very nicely put.

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