A bad ending spoils an entire story while a good ending might redeem a mediocre one. Today we’ll take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the four most common types of endings, according to the Bureau of Statistics Recently Pulled Out Of My Own Ass.
The Triumphant Ending: Through hard work, strength, cunning, or plain dumb luck, the protagonist succeeds. There’s a primal satisfaction to be gained from watching a character you care about succeed. But in order for this to work, that empathy has to be established and the triumph has to feel earned. Keeping the reader emotionally invested is the key for this type of ending.
The Tragic Ending: Things don’t work out. At all. We’re talking kill your father, sleep with your mother, and then cut out your own eyes. Now you don’t have any eyes. That’s going to suck. Tragic endings may not be as popular as they were in the days of Greek drama, but sometimes they are the most appropriate ends to bleak stories.
The Bittersweet Ending: A lot of endings are a little more complicated than the prior two. Perhaps the protagonist succeeds but has to sacrifice so much it can hardly be called a triumph. Or perhaps, even in failure, our protagonist maintained their principles. Bittersweet endings can be the most emotionally compelling, as your reader will be left wondering if it was all really worth it. Speaking of which.
The Ambiguous Ending: I’m not going to tell you that this way of ending is bad. That would ruin my chance for any sort of meta-joke about it. But ambiguous endings are difficult. There’s a fine line between leaving the reader to ponder things and leaving the reader to ponder why you couldn’t have just written another paragraph or two, and it’s a line that many writers fall on the wrong side of. A successful ambiguous ending is a matter of making the open-ended nature of the story purposeful, rather than just an abrupt
Endings have to justify the story, feel earned and appropriate for the rest of the plot, and serve as fitting send offs for characters your readers have come to enjoy. Thinking about ending the story makes us consider the inner workings of the story as a whole so we can figure out what sort of capstone it deserves. Because your reader’s last impression is almost as important as their first, the difference is that the ending will shape their decision about whether they want to read anything else by you, rather than just this particular story.
Gideon Simons is a first year fiction writer at Virginia Tech. He is the Fiction editor for the minnesota review.