I can't figure out the ending.

by Yami


This is my first time on this website and I've found a lot of helpful things. But now I'm wondering if you can help me with the problem I've been having. Though I give no promises that it will be explained in a way that remotely makes sense.

So here it is. I usually start my stories off with a scene and then go onto developing the plot and everything. The characters are a big help as when I write they show me how the scene and parts of the story go.

My problem ... I don't know the ending. Of any of them. I literally have dozens of stories that are unfinished because I don't know how to end them. I can come up with a good story and can even make up the climax, but after that nothing.

I come back to them over and over and try to work out how they need to end in any way, but it just doesn't work for me. I'm not sure if this even makes any sense, is there any advice you can give me?

Question: It is often said that the end is in the beginning, that they cannot exist without each other.

For example, for a story to have meaning, it should be about something. There should be a goal, a problem, or an imbalance in the story world that needs to be achieved, addressed, healed, etc.

At least that's true for a happy ending. If you want to write a tragedy, then the goal will not be achieved, because the protagonist makes a fatal error or goes too far (what the ancient Greeks called hubris).

In a four-act structure, the first act will show how the problem arises. The second act will show the complications that arise as the protagonist tries to solve the problem. The third act will bring everything to a crisis and the fourth act will show how the problem is resolved.

A story with a happy ending shows, as Aristotle says, a change in fortune from bad to good. So the end must show that things are better. The problem is solved. The world is healed.

A tragedy is a change from good to bad. So the end must show the catastrophe that resulted because the wrong choice was made. You would illustrate how the world is worse off. (In traditional tragedies, this usually means people die.)

At the same time, the main character will have his own arc. The character will start off with a particular approach to life, problems, etc. In act two, he will be pressured to change--to switch to a different approach. Act three will present his personal crisis, where he will either change or not, and act four will show whether that choice leads to happiness or not.

So the ending should also show whether the main character is happier, satisfied, better off, etc.

The ending should also show whether the impact character (the one who most influences the main character to change) ends up happier or changed in the end. The same is true for any other character who undergoes an arc in the story.

Finally, the relationship between the main and impact characters often has its own arc that must be resolved. For instance, do they start off as enemies and wind up friends, or the opposite? Do they start as rivals and end up as lovers? Does the relationship blossom or is it destroyed?

What you have to do is ask yourself what your story is about.

Is it about a world threatened with X, but your characters manage to achieve Y instead?

Is it about someone who starts off as X but evolves or learns and so becomes Y in the end?

Is it about a relationship that evolves from X to Y?

The ending should show all the Ys. The meaning of the story then becomes, "When faced with this type of problem, these choices are the best/worst."

Something else that helps is to ask yourself what a happy ending would look like, if you could take a photograph of it. For instance, what picture could you show the reader that would prove that the main character is happier or better off in the end? What picture or scene would demonstrate that the world or the relationship is healed?

For example, The Hunger Games ends with Katniss married, with her children playing safely, and no threat of of the reaping. The Fault in Our Stars ends with Hazel having resolved her existential fears. She has learned to find happiness in whatever time she has. A Christmas Carol ends with Scrooge becoming widely regarded as a great and generous person. It's a Wonderful life ends with George Bailey surrounded by friends and family.

As for tragedies, think how Hamlet ends with a stage full of dead bodies. A Streetcar Named Desire ends with Blanche being carted off to the asylum.

Comments for I can't figure out the ending.

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Nov 06, 2014
Finding an ending
by: Anonymous

You say that the beginning and ending should coincide. But then you have shown examples of those that have not. If an ending ends with a death but starts out and remains good through the story,is it feasible that for most of the story the main character is happy and thriving in his life time? Thus, can die off peacefully? S.

Nov 07, 2014
by: Glen

What I am saying is that the beginning presents a problem that must be resolved or an imbalance that needs to be corrected. So if you know what the problem is in act one, you can expect that act four will show the resolution of that problem.

In the case of a happy ending, the story often begins with an outside force threatening the main character or the story world and ends with the threat being extinguished in a way that restores happiness and balance.

In the case of a classic tragedy, the threat may be something within the main character or the community, such as arrogance, ignorance, or runaway ambition. The resolution brings the world back into balance through the downfall of the main character (and possibly the community as well).

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