Monday, May 16, 2022

The End

Sara Amini  

The End - Art Ranked

I just finished reading Holly Black's Book of Night, and I give it full credit for this month's blog topic.  Yes, I have written about endings before, in the 2018 post, The End is Near, but today's topic is different.

Don't worry, I won't tell you how the Book of Night ends, except to sputter words like provocative, shattering and unexpected. I literally can't stop thinking about it. If the goal is to evoke emotions, it reached it, and then some.

You've probably guessed by now, I'm here as much for my therapy as I am for exploring insights into story endings. BON has me asking: What is the right ending for a story? How much is the rightness based on reader expectation and genre? Just how much can we get away with?

According to Master Class at Writing 101 (yes I researched this) there are multiple classifications of endings including:

Resolved ending

Unresolved ending

Expanded ending

Unexpected ending

Ambiguous ending

Tied ending

But even as I look at this academic list, I don't know where to put  Holly Black's Book of Night. And let me just add, that the narration by Sara Amini is stunning and visceral. She's amazing in her contribution to the storytelling.

But back to the topic. Each story is unique, as is each genre so let's go through a few. Maybe you can help me come to some conclusions about BON.

Romance and the HEA

I'm pretty sure all the Sup readers know that HEA stands for Happily Ever After. It's linked to the fairytale ending, but also might have the contemporary, slightly more real twist of HFN, or happy for now. It's satisfying, but also no big surprise... Holly Black's Book of Night was not this in the slightest.

Mystery, Crime and Detective - the Resolved Ending

Here we have the wrap-up ending. It may include a review of what the characters will do after the last page, or not, but the bottom line for this ending is closure. There are not going to be many loose strings left in the plot elements because the story is complete. Holly Black's Book of Night was definitely not this, because we know now it is #1 of a series. 

Fantasy and the Cliffhanger, Surprise or Expanded Ending

Fantasy books are not always series, and not always cliffhangers, but they often are. How else to lure the reader on to the second, third and fourth book? There are options, like write amazing worlds and characters. One may also include epilogues (the expanded ending) and partial resolves/partial unresolved, but note, just because a book is part of a series doesn't mean it can't have a feeling of HEA and/or resolution. 

Take Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. Each book is one of 28, so far, but has its own sense of completion. Charlaine Harris did this with the Sookie Stackhouse series. 

Meanwhile, the true cliffhanger is just that. It leaves us hanging on the edge of a cliff. But Holly Black's Book of Night was not really this. It has a powerful sense of The End, just not what I ever thought it would be.*

The Hero's Journey - a Tied Ending

Here we have the full circle, the ending that returns to the time, place or sense where it all began. It doesn't mean that nothing has changed, but here we are again, but with more significance. Time travel themes are obvious in this style of ending and those stories following classical mythology tropes. The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King is an example. 

Holly Black's Book of Night was not this either, except in the sense that we find a very early phrase
repeated in the very last sentence, making for a powerhouse theme I didn't see coming.

Literary Fiction and the Ambiguous Ending

Here the ending is open to interpretation. Ten readers might have ten different takes on what happened, and what may happen next. For example, Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Not all literary fiction ends this way, and it still can make sense and possibly resolve at least a portion of the plot, but there is a feeling of wonder (or horror) or maybe doubt. 

Holly Black's Book of Night comes close to this too. I haven't talked to enough other people who read it to know... I think I'll go check the reviews on Goodreads to find out.

* Reviewers on Goodreads are calling this a cliffhanger ending on Goodreads. For me, it wasn't OMG what will happen next but more, OMG that happened?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments if you have a second. I would love to hear them.

See you there


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Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has just released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy with Curse of Shadows coming out in 2022.

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site 


Helen Lowe said...

Hi Kim,

You've certainly got me interested in reading "Book OF Night" -- which is a fabulous title, just btw.:) In terms of endings, although I have a sneaking liking for Happy Ever After ;-), my favourite endings are those that somehow just seem perfect in the context of the book.

Two of my favourite "Happy Ever Afters" are the ending to Ursula Le Guin's "A Wizard of Earthsea" and Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster (of Hed) trilogy. So much has happened in both stories but the endings complete them perfectly and leave me feeling completely satisfied as a reader.

I mentioned the ending to Guy Gavriel Kay's "Tigana" on Twitter, which is perfect in the way it closes off that story by opening up the new for three of the characters. It does so by picking up a thread that's surfaced several times throughout the book but is also open-ended in that you know there are three characters and three possible fates, but you don't know who will get which fate. Yet the main "Tigana" story has definitely wrapped up.

Returning to Ursula Le Guin, "The Left Hand of Darkness" has a reasonably sad ending, but again, it fits the book -- thus satisfying my rule of thumb. :-)

Thanks for a great post, Kim, & for getting me thinking!

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Helen,

I agree. My favorite endings are those "...perfect in the context of the book..." But I was relaxing into the feeling of a HEA with Book of Night and, oh boy.... That's all I can say. Oh boy!

As a writer, I've had the experience where I was asked to CHANGE the ending - place, tone and/or events, in the original manuscript. This seems to happen when publishers feel the reader expectations differ from my intention for the story. Has this ever happened with your stories?

Struggles and compromises ensued...

In the end, (pun intended) the genre has as much to say about how things end as the author, the publisher and the readers! I think we could write a thesis on the progression of genre fiction and endings from the 18th century to modern times. :)

But instead, I'll keep writing the endings the story dictates in a way that, hopefully, fulfils all the criteria for that 'perfect ending' we're after.

Thank you for dropping in with your comments. Always appreciated!