What makes a good ending?

I love a good ending, though the more I study them and watch for them the more I realize how rare they really are. Plenty of stories have passable ending, and some have outright terrible endings, but an ending that really works really well is a scarce and wonderful thing.

Why do I study endings so much? Because I’m not very good at them. I think my Serial Killer books have pretty good endings, but only because I workshopped them and revised them and really went crazy trying to make the endings as good as they could be. My middles go through two, maybe three drafts; my beginnings go through three or four. My endings go through eight or nine drafts before they’re good enough to see the light of day, and even then I worry about them.

So what makes an ending good? I’m going to shake things up today and not the answer the question; instead I’ll just turn it around and ask you guys what you like in and ending. And I don’t just want descriptions, I want examples. I want to know what books/movies/plays etc. have your favorite endings, even if you don’t know why.

I’ll start you off: the best book series finale/wrap-up I’ve read in a very long time is the third Mistborn book, Hero of Ages. Everything came together, in a way that managed to be, yes, both surprising and inevitable. On the movie front, no ending in recent memory has hit me as powerfully as the recent remake of 3:10 to Yuma–it was just so…perfect. I don’t even know how to explain, because I’m not sure why it worked as well as it did. That’s why I’m studying these, to figure out what works and why.

So please, post your comments: What are your favorite endings? What knocked your socks off? What do you think is awesome, and why?

43 Responses to “What makes a good ending?”

  1. Sam says:

    ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ by John le Carre has to be one of the greatest endings I’ve ever read. Every little detail and thread seems to come together right at the perfect moment.

  2. ty.pitre says:

    It should be noted that anything talked about here is going to contain major spoilers, the biggest of spoilers.

    The Dark Knight ending.

    I think I liked it so much because after the Joker was dealt with, we get the real ending. I didn’t fully realize that the Dark Knight was about Batman, Harvey Dent, and Gordon and how they were connected until that “second” ending.

    So much happens, in a very tense amount of time, and it flows naturally. Harvey Dent becomes completely evil, willing to kill a child. Gordon breaks under the pressure, admitting it was all his fault. Batman shows up, tries to take down Dent, and is shot. (Try fail cycle.) When Dent finally is taken down, the characters are still going through their final changes.

    Batman gives up the last shred of hoping to ever stop being batman, and also hoping that the public can accept him. A complete and utter sacrifice for the greater good.

    Gordon accepts that Batman will never be a figure of good for the city, but a needed evil. He is willing to “chase” him and denounce him, despite it being against his morals.

    Dent dies. He loses the battle to his dark side, and because of it, pays dearly.

    I can’t explain it, but it felt like the ending was “wound tight.”

  3. ty.pitre says:

    Watchman (The comic)

    This was a powerful ending for me, so when they changed it (just EVER so slightly) in the movie, I felt like the entire movie was ruined.

    We are led throughout the entire novel unraveling a mystery with Rorschach, a character that has absolutely NO leeway. He will not change, he has a strict code that he follows to the T. This man is a rock that cannot be swayed, and that is stressed through the entire book.

    We reach the end of the novel and find out Veidt is going to give the world complete peace… at a huge cost. And he’s already done it. The heroes don’t make it in time.

    And then the big part comes, the ending. Everyone agrees that the damage is done, and that what Veidt did was wrong, but they would keep quiet, lest they destroy the peace he created. They all grudgingly let Veidt off the hook.

    Except Rorschach. He can’t compromise, not for a single murder or a million. He refuses. But he can’t beat Veidt. There is no possible way out of the situation for our dear Rorschach.

    So he accepts death over a compromise. And it was very powerful. There wasn’t a big fight about it, or pleading, or anything. He just simply got killed, and that was it.

    I think it worked best because everyone KNEW Rorschach wouldn’t compromise, and his death was punch to the face.

    (The movie took away from this ending significantly. Night Owl ALSO didn’t compromise, and tried to “beat up” Veidt at the end. He ruined the impact of Rorschach’s death completely.)

  4. Honestly (and I know people may find this obvious or whatever), but it would have to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for me. Since the series, in my opinion, had such a reputation for stellar endings, I knew that Deathly Hallows was going to end incredibly. There was no doubt about it. J.K. Rowling had, up to that point, proven herself to be a genius plotmaster.

    However, wrapping up a seven book series in one novel utilizing her writing style of introducing loads of new material each book (she herself comments on this in a ‘Richard & Judy’ interview) is plain difficult. For me, I think this would be impossible (I’m not THAT good yet). So I went into the novel believing in her power to write another great novel, but had no idea how Deathly Hallows would close all the loose and varying plot threads she’d still left open almost since Sorcerer’s Stone.

    Needless to say, she succeeded massively. I’ve read Deathly Hallows twice now and both times I was simply stunned with the brilliance of it all. Like Sanderson’s ‘Hero of Ages’ the climax to the Harry Potter series was surprising yet inevitable. I recently reread Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, then rushed on to Deathly Hallows because I couldn’t wait to get to the ending again. During the course of re-reading Deathly Hallows, I found myself smacking my forehead constantly! “Duh!” I would mutter, “Why didn’t I catch that before?”

    That should be the power of any novel, but particularly one that closes out a series. And, of course, the battle between Harry and Voldemort at the end (don’t wanna spoil anything for those still reading) was ingeniously written.

  5. Mike D. says:

    I’m going to go against grain here and put up Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. I know that he’s been hammered pretty hard for his abrupt and denoument-free endings, but I found this one to be immensely satisfying. Yes it was abrupt, yes it lacked any real dialogue, but I still found it to be an emotionally impacting if not event-filled climax of a book that at the bottom of it all was simply an epic slice of life (well, many lives in multiple timeframes). Stephenson’s writing is like dropping the needle on a record player listening and then pulling it up – we enter the character’s lives in mid-stream and leave just the same. You always get a sense that there’s more going on outside of the narrative. How can you end books like this except how then begin? I think abrupt works for him, especially here.

    It’s not the ending for everyone, but it stays memorable to me.

  6. MDBeards says:

    The Lord of The Rings has an awesome ending. Well, several, but I think of Frodo and Sam and Frodo’s failure with the Ring. Then everyone’s butt is saved by Gollum. Unexpected, Inevitable, Perfect (or darn close)!

    Ender’s Game: Brilliant. I had no realization that the Game was real until the end. It may have been due to me being young myself. But again, unexpected and inevitable.

  7. Jocelyn C. says:

    I like endings that leave me both satisfied with the conclusion and simultaneously wondering about the many future possibilities created by that conclusion. “Happily Ever After” endings aren’t as fun for me as endings that suggest a continuation of interesting life.

    One of the books that I’ve read in recent years that has a fantastic ending is “Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke. The book has numerous seemingly unrelated plots that come together in one of the most delicious surprising yet inevitable endings I’ve ever read. I hadn’t anticipated it at all, yet it felt utterly right and natural given the clues seeded throughout the entire narrative. It was also far from happy (one of the main characters is left in a very unsettled and unpleasant situation with no sign of immediate escape), yet I felt completely satisfied. I could see how the characters might go forward, building new lives and pursuing new endeavors, yet the plot and problems set forth in the book had all come to an end. It was the perfect balance.

    Another long-time favorite was the ending of the middle grade fantasy series the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. It was a bittersweet ending where the villain was destroyed, yet longtime friends and companions were forced to part from each other forever–some to take on lives of peace and ease, others willingly choosing lives of difficult yet meaningful hardship and labor. I definitely felt the satisfaction of a story ended well, yet the continuing curiosity of “what might happen next?”

    That is my favorite kind of ending.

  8. Taffy says:

    Good examples. And great ‘thinking’ post; I’m going to have to think about it more.
    Off the top of my head I liked how ‘Queen of Attolia’ ended. Several times I had to go back to some part of the book to reread a sentence or conversation that had more significance than I gave it. I loved watching the characters change.

  9. T.J. says:

    I really enjoyed the ending to Terry Brooks’ Elfstones of Shannara. Even though it was a ‘sequel,’ it stood very well alone as its own novel. It wasn’t something I was expecting, I was far too entertained by the writin to realize what was going to happen.
    Another book I liked the ending to was John Grisham’s The Street Lawyer. I don’t recall exactly what happened. But I do know that it’s my favorite of his novels.

  10. Ravi says:

    Dan,

    It’s funny that you mention the ending to the Yuma remake specifically, because the original author, Elmore Leonard, said that he was disappointed with the ending. Here’s the article, in which he also describes his early writing habits, which are great (very disciplined):

    http://www.aarpmagazine.org/people/leonard_making_it_up.html

    I haven’t read his original story or even seen the original movie, but I think he wanted Christian Bale’s character to be rewarded completely for his moral decisions, i.e. surviving and going home to his children. Personally, I think the remake’s ending works just as well if not more so, since he still wins both things he’s fighting for: his family’s well-being and his honor.

    As for books, I find myself re-reading books sometimes because I can’t remember the endings and figure I never finished it, when it turns out I had. But my favorite books are often favorites for everything that comes before the ending. I’m not likely to finish a book relying on its ending.

    But thinking about it, my favorite endings are always the ones wherein the protagonist sacrifices something. I will never allow myself to forget the ending to For Whom the Bell Tolls. Jordan gives his life for something he loves, plops down, and takes aim as his enemy approaches. And that’s it. Hemingway basically lets the reader write the ending on their own, it’s just awesome. The failure to commit like Hemingway did is what can make other endings stink so badly: Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai decides to charge over an open field against gatling guns… and lives, because he’s Tom Cruise. No.

    Even small sacrifices can work. A recent example that does this well in my mind is the first Spiderman, where Peter turns Mary Jane down. Not a big effect on the universe, but big for his character, and he still gets to save the day and live for the sequel. Hooray!

  11. Heather Muir says:

    Best Movie Ending: Charade. If you haven’t seen it, it stars Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant in a comedic, suspenseful, romantic, crazy awesome movie. The ending is great because even though you know the money is going safely to the right people, the romantic ending has not been solved and you are yet again surprised by Carey Grant’s identity number four. It feels so perfect! Everything is tied up and happy and funny. All the right people are alive and all the wrong people dead. Yeah, just watch it.

    Best Book Ending: The third HP book has a classicly good ending, in my opinion. However, other books with good endings include Wildwood Dancing by Juliette Marillier, About A Boy by Nick Hornby, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

    All of these endings have in common for me that even though you know where the ending is going, what has to happen, they still surprise you with an ending better than you imagined yourself. Look at fairy tale re=tellings. Everyone knows the end of the story and yet some writers manage to make that ending transcend.

    Also, most of these stories resolved the main plot-related conflict and ended the story with the romantic resolution that you weren’t sure you were going to get. A surprise you weren’t expecting in a situation you knew would happen.

  12. Jason Elliott says:

    While I agree with you, Dan, that Hero of Ages was a great ending to the series, I actually don’t think it was the BEST in the series. I was exceedingly happy when I found out Brandon would be finishing the WoT series simply BECAUSE I thought his ability to write an ending–while sometimes a little rushed (i.e. Elantris)–was incredible. I was a fan well before the announcement having already read Elantris and The Final Empire.

    To me, The Final Empire had one of the best endings I’ve ever read. And while I knew that Kelsier was going to die when he went up against the Lord Ruler, the way it happened was shocking, beautiful, and perfect. It was one of those moments when, even though what you wanted to happen didn’t, you couldn’t imagine it any other way. The mood of the finale was incredible. Very much like the end of 3:10 to Yuma.

    My only hope is that Brandon can do with A Memory of Light what he did in the last few chapters of The Final Empire…and that it lasts for the entire book! He has a knack for building toward a great ending, and then paying off every piece of foreshadowing that he expertly placed ahead of time.

    I’m anxiously awaiting the US release of your first book. I was tempted to buy a copy from B&N UK, but I still have five books currently in my To Read queue, so I figured I could wait until it’s domestic release. Why oh why did you release two books in foreign markets before the first is even released here??? :)

  13. WriterDan says:

    Here’s a few for you to chew on, with my thoughts added in.

    Movies:
    Enemy Mine — Shows character’s strength of honor
    The Prestige — Shows character’s strength of will
    Sixth Sense — Jaw-dropping “Whoa!” moment, character related
    The Ring — Jaw-dropping “Whoa!!” moment, situation related
    Up — Finality of character’s dreams (I remember the first time that I watched this, chanting to myself, “They have to show the house. They have to show the house.” And they did.)

    Books:
    Odd Thomas — Changing the way I view a character
    Dune — Not sure. Had to have one, right?
    Mr Monster — Fist pump in anticipation of what is to come
    Lord of Chaos — Massive reversal of fortune for character
    Needful Things — Long, slow build-up of tension is released

    I agree completely about endings. I don’t ever start writing a story until I feel like I have a satisfying ending. Anything else is cheating if you ask me. :)

  14. Ellie says:

    An American haunting- traditonal scary movie twist, it’s really good because it ties in the start of the film

  15. Martha says:

    I like a twist at the end.

  16. Kaylynn says:

    I really like the end of Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede. It’s a bit farcical where everyone ends up in the same place at the same time, but the humor really worked for me.

  17. I think some of the best book endings for me are, as one poster said, the non-happily ever after endings. Dies the Fire by SM Stirling is a powerful example of a great ending.

    His book is a gritty world apocalypse type of story, but it doesn’t stay there. It moves into how humanity survives, what cultures come to the fore. In it, the main groups have just found out how terrifying real war can be (very few of these people were in the military before this) and how much a single person (and through the example, how myths) can affect an entire civilization.

    And with the birth and prophesy of Juniper’s son,it let you know that there would not be an end to fighting anytime soon. His endings are always brilliant though, especially the emberverse series.

    I’ll throw in one other here and suggest a favourite from my Childhood, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. The ending is emotionally charged, driven and spiritual (fitting the tone of the book perfectly). When Billy is standing over the graves and remembers his mother saying “The place where the red fern grows is sacred…” its a very powerful moment (okay it always makes me cry). There is something very satisfying about knowing that sometimes good things are not meant to last.

    I wish I could explain myself better to help you out… As a writer (amateur) myself, I have problems with my endings as well.

  18. Mike says:

    For me, a truly good ending needs to have the very, very delicate balance between logically coming about from everything that came before it while at the same time coming as a surprise to the reader. The bigger the surprise – the longer you can hold off the moment where the reader knows how everything will pan out – the better the ending. This of course presumes that the reader is interested in how things will turn out at all (ie. I care whether the bad guy falls or the good guy lives), which is as important as the ending itself but not what we’re talking about here.
    There are lots of examples of good and bad, but I’ve listed a few below. SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read about specific endings if you don’t want to know how they turn out.

    ENDING WINS:
    LOTR: Gollum stealing the ring at the last minute and falling into the pit could only have been predicted through speculation, but it made sense (hence logical but surprising).

    IANASK: Written in the 1st person, we were pretty sure that the demon would lose because the teller of the story is still alive, but it wasn’t until the climax that it actually happened, and it was satisfying because the exact method wasn’t telegraphed. We didn’t even know for sure that the demon would be destroyed at the end, there were quite a few possibilities available.

    Jaws: Same thing, you know that they’re going to win over the shark, but you don’t know exactly how until they shoot the air canister and you don’t know for sure how many of the guys are going to survive. It helps that the movie and book both had a lot of character development and a fantastic story. If it was just a long shark-hunt it probably wouldn’t have worked as well.

    The Matrix (original): Plain and simple: I was blown away by this one. I was familiar with the Monomyth before I stepped into the theater and I still had an “Oh no!” moment when Neo got shot by the agents.

    ENDING FAILS:
    Alice in Wonderland(The new one by Tim Burton): It’s told in the first few minutes of Alice showing up in Wonderland exactly how everything will end and then it ends in exactly that way (Hell, they even have a drawing of it!). It’s boring, it’s cheating, and it’s literary laziness. And then the second ending outside Wonderland is the exact opposite, it comes out of nowhere and makes you wonder for the second time in one sitting why you wasted your time and money.

    The Matrix Revolutions: I only watched it once in theater, and it’s been a while. I don’t remember much at all about the movie itself but I vividly remember the sense of “You have got to be kidding me” that came about with the climax. I’d have to watch it again to detail where I fell they went wrong, but I have better things to do with my time.

  19. Shira says:

    I like an ending where it doesn’t quite work out – you can see that the events left a mark on people’s lives, so they can’t just continue. I find if people just continue to live life as usual, as though nothing happened, the story loses significance; it could just be forgotten.
    This was done well in Harry Potter, as key people died and were mourned – ‘happiness would come, but at the moment … the pain of losing [SPOILERS]‘ This shows that the characters feel something, and the story was important.
    A horrible ending can be seen in the Twilight series. It was an anti-climax, a ‘happily ever after’. It was too neat – all the good people lived, bad people died and everything was done for the right reasons. It felt like a crowd pleaser, but failed, as it made all the struggles and conflicts of the four books meaningless.
    Your book, I Am Not A Serial Killer, managed to show that the character had moved on, but would still have to struggle as the walls were down. Kudos on a great ending, and I look forward to reading the sequel.

  20. Sarah says:

    One of my faveourite endings is LJ Smiths ending to her trilogy The Forbidden Game…makes me cry everytime I read it…he sacrificed his life for her and let her go…its more moving than I made it sound though. :)

    Best movie ending The Green Mile…again makes me cry everytime, the last shot of the mous, Mr Jingles, is surprisingly moving!

  21. Edgar Tolman says:

    I think The Prestige was the first ending that made me want to watch the entire movie again right afterward. It wasn’t just the ending, obviously, as the entire movie had to be carefully constructed in order to reach that ending with any impact, but the ending was the payoff. I also like it because it wasn’t really feel-good. It was an ending, and it definitely wrapped things up, but it made me realize just how much was lost over the course of the characters’ lives.

    In a way The Prestige reminded me of the endings of old classic books like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers (that ending being The Man in the Iron Mask), and Les Miserables. It was good to see a Hollywood movie end that way because even the movies made out of the above mentioned classic books completely changed the endings to fit the Hollywood style.

    I must also throw in the ending(s) of the movie Clue. Now there’s a true classic.

  22. The greatest ending in book or movie is without a doubt the ending of Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson.

    Not only is it well written and ties up just enough plot to make for great closure but leaves enough open to bring the reader back in later installments, but is full of meaning, emotion, and scope. It is truly epic. I read it about a year ago and i still haven’t been able to forget how great it was.

  23. Rebecca Tayler says:

    A very basic, yet still good example of a great ending is Disney’s Aladdin. When Jafar has wished himself into the most powerful sorcerer, it seems that he has no weakness. Then Aladdin convinces him, because his powers came from the genie, that being a genie is actually MORE powerful. Jafar wishes to be the most powerful genie, and along with it comes the shackles and confinement to the lamp. Great! It ties back to the theme of Power vs. Freedom. It’s also a good example of how happy endings can completely satisfy. It’s NOT one of my favorite movies, but I have always admired the ending.

  24. Karenahlstrom says:

    The one that came to mind while reading this was A Tale of Two Cities. I knew every bit of what had to happen in that ending long before it came, but when it came, I still wept and loved it. It was the RIGHT ending for that book.

  25. Alex Booth says:

    In terms of books, I loved the ending to A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. He is a master at weaving all his different characters together to form a fantastic plot, and thrones is no exception. Eddard Stark fights the entire book to protect his honor, but at the end he has to sacrifice it in order to protect his children. Then he is killed regardless. It was unexpected, inevitable, and perfectly fitting to the rest of the book.

    In terms of films, I agree with ty.pitre that The Dark Knight ending was superb. The plot is beautifully structured so that you get invested in Batman’s stopping the Joker. Then, once the Joker is captured, you realize that all the things that have been going on over the course of the film were just to set up the real ending where Batman sacrifices who he is in order to protect Gotham. Simply superb. On another note, I loved the ending to Citizen Kane. The plot was ingeniously built so that you slowly see Kane’s character transformation. At the end the film exposes the meaning of rosebud while still not answering all the questions posed. A classic ending that never fails to impress after three viewings.

  26. Hannah says:

    I love really EPIC huge fantastic endings that leave you gasping

    Best endings:
    Harry Potter 7 – Being a HUGE Harry Potter freak this was really fantastic and filled with genius. So many twists and shocks! The epilogue was a bit weird though.
    I am Not a Serial Killer -
    “You’ll never see us coming”
    *closes book*
    OMG!!!! There’s GOTTA be a sequel to this thing!!!

  27. Gilmadin says:

    As far as films go, I think that I would have to say Snatch. It’s a movie that is most definitely not for everyone as it has a considerable amount of language, sexual references, and violence, but the end of that movie is the most incredible that comes to mind right now. Everything comes together at the end of that movie, where if becomes obvious that everything that happened was one long chain of events, with all of the characters’ actions being unknowingly interconnected. And the very last scene allows for your imagination to run wild with the possibilities of what happened after the credits began to roll — the cycle may well have begun all over again, or the gem dealer is finally able to buy the 80 karat diamond that he was trying to get his hands on for the entire film. That conclusion is left up to the audience’s imagination, and yet you don’t feel at all cheated in not knowing.

    As far as books… It’s hard to say. My most favorite stories have yet to reach their full conclusions. The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingkiller Chronicle… But I think that the best endings would have to be similar to that of Snatch — all of the major plot threads are resolved, with the major characters reaching surprising yet logical conclusions. But at the same time there needs to be enough left over for the reader’s imagination to run wild with possibilities for the future of that world. I think that Brandon Sanderson is particularly good at that, and so I am a fan of the endings of his books, because I did not feel at all cheated with any of them, but they still left me feeling as though there might be enough left over for me to invent the continuation of the story from that point on in my own mind. A good ending, in my opinion, is one that does not tie every tiny little plot point and detail into a nice, ribbon-tied package with nothing left unresolved or vague — and at the same time not leaving me feeling cheated.

  28. John Brown says:

    I like an ending (I’m talking climax) that does a mix of some or all of the following to me:

    -Surprises
    -Gives insight (could be part of the surprise)
    -Reverses fortune of the hero, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat leading me to cheer, even if it’s mixed with poignancy
    -Raises expectations for the future, not necessarily for sequels, but that there’s more story, giving me just a bit of longing so the story stays in my mind
    -Provides characters some heroic moments
    -Makes me feel all the sacrifice was worth it
    -It doesn’t end too quickly, I like to savor the victory, although some of that can come if I get the telescoping into the future.

    I can’t say these are the best ever, but they’re endings I love.

    THE INCREDIBLES: every one of them got to be heroic, surprised me with Jack Jack, suggested more story, held the suspense out to the very very end (Syndrome stealing the baby)

    THE GOOD GUY BY DEAN KOONTZ: The ending was so satisfying because it allowed for huge heroism. Big payoff. Surprise, insight.

    LION KING: the parts I loved were the surprising and heroic bits by Rafiki, Pumba, and Timone. Cheer moments.

    THE ROAD by McCarthy: heroic, total reversal of forture, more story. Would have never worked without all that went before.

    SABRINA, FAR & AWAY: extended the suspense out to the end, then paid it all off. I wanted them to find each other soooo very much.

    GLADIATOR: hint of more, heroic moment

    RANSOM: surprise, triumph, safety

    Of course, I think a lot of the effect felt at the ending depends on what happens long BEFORE the end. And I think that centers around the longing built in the reader for the hero to be happy, the threat erased–the deservingness of the hero or his cause. The stakes. And the fact that it all appears to be lost and then isn’t. With Gladiator, for example, I almost shouted out in the theater for the guy to kill the emperor. Withtout that huge investment, that desire, without thinking he was going to fail at the very last, it wouldn’t have nearly been as powerful.

  29. Alan Kellogg says:

    ty.pitre,

    You didn’t finish Watchmen now did you? :)

    Spoiler Warning.

    Rohrsharch kept a journal of his doings and his observations. Before going off to confront Veidt in Antarctica he mailed that journal to a tabloid he’d followed over the years. Years after everything goes down the publisher of the rag needs something to fill space. A nebbish intern is told to pick something to put in that space. Guess what the fellow chooses?

    As Dr. Manhattan put it, “Nothing’s ever done.”

    That is the ending to Watchmen. Rohrsharch reveals the truth post mortem, and all because he kept a dairy and put it in the hands of someone who would, albeit inadvertently, reveal it to the world.

    There are some endings that close the story, there are others that let you continue the story in your own way, and Watchmen has one that sets up a story it would take a genius to top your imagination.

    Being a show off…

    Conrad Veidt’s thought his suicide — his self execution as he thought of it — would atone for his deeds all those years ago. He was wrong, he only made it worse. One pundit declared his action selfish. Another said it was cowardly. Fools declared it noble and self-sacrificing and made of him a god. Dr. Manhattan, five billion light years away, noted the man’s passing and observed, “No more sense that a first year philosophy student.” He then eradicated any tendency towards sociopathology among his creation.

  30. Moses says:

    One comes to mind. I really enjoyed, maybe not exactly the very end (which would make this all too topical), but the last 20 minutes or so of ‘Last of the Mohicans.’

    It’s my favorite ‘duel’ from any movie, and it has tragedy and sacrifice and intense emotions like anger, love, and vengeance. I think it’s pretty amazing.

  31. Alan Kellogg says:

    A different ending can be found in Karen Miller’s Godspeaker trilogy. A tale of insanity, psychopathology, religious fervor, and redemption, the ending (spoiler warning) involves the aforementioned redemption, and not just of the hero, but of his people as well.

    Karen does not close the story, rather she leaves it open to continuation, in the reader’s imagination. What happens to people after the tale is left open for the reader’s crafting, for The God Speakers acts as an establishment tale for an arc in which a people become more than they once were thanks to an agent of redemption. The foundational tale is done, and Karen Miller’s role in it’s telling is done as well. Now it is for others to continue what she had begun.

    Dr. Manhattan was right, nothing is ever done. But, one story leads on to the next, for each tale is but prelude to the next. What happened after Romeo and Juliet? What of the heirs of Aragorn?

    An ending is but a pause in the narrative that began 15 billion years ago. Sometimes the pause is a satisfying one, a justified one separating distinct incidents. Other times the pause is but a rude interruption meaning nothing and giving no justifiable cause to separate what really should be part of the same tale.

  32. Alan Kellogg says:

    One final thought; what makes for a good ending?

    Is it appropriate? Samwise Gamgees arrival home from the Grey Havens is appropriate. The story continues on, but he has no part to play in it, he part in the narrative is done. The end to the God Speaker Trilogy is appropriate to, for the story of the mad empress has finished, now it is the tale of a man bringing salvation to a people.

    Does it end the story? Even when another story begins with the old one’s ending, does the story end? Is there completion? Is it a true completion, or just a stopping with no resolution?

    Even when it doesn’t truly end the narrative does it complete the tale. Is there a true finish, or only a sham?

    Consider A Canticle for Liebowitz, a story that ends with the death of the old world and the birth of a new. A world remade without the errors of the past. One story ends, a new one begins. An ending that fits the tale, that is appropriate to the tale. That is what gives the ending its power.

  33. Alan Kellogg says:

    Just read John Browwn’s comment.

    Mr. Brown,

    The climax is not the ending, it’s just the money shot.

  34. Andrea says:

    Shutter Island: The middle was really boring, but the ending made it worthwile. It was sad and unexpected.

    And in books: The Simoqin Prophecies by Samit Basu. The hero decides that he actually isn’t that heroic and will therefore accept the offer of his dead father who was the evil Dark Lord a long time ago. He becomes the new dark lord because he thinks he can do more good that way. Keep the Dark Lords army in check for example.

  35. Roine says:

    An example of a perfect ending: “I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.”

  36. Sean says:

    There are so many, but one nobody has mentioned: Deep Blue Sea. The movie as a whole was not fantastic, but at the end, one of the surviving characters is grabbed by the shark and hauled off in its mouth. This shark has killed dozens of people over the course of the movie; it is implacable, and as soon as the character is taken, you think “Yep, there goes another one. Instead, the guy stabs the shark repeatedly in the eye even as he is being hauled off. He manages to survive against all odds. That is one thing I have always appreciated in an ending, the survival that you didn’t see coming. It’s hard to pull off because first you have to convince your reader that the character really is going to die, that his fate is written. That sense of mortality is lacking in most books, and in the books where you believe that the character really can die, he/she usually does.

    Off topic: another fantastic thing that was done in Deep Blue Sea was the death of the character played by Samuel L. Jackson. He was the biggest name actor in the film, and twenty minutes into the film while giving a rousing speech, he is eaten by the shark. Totally unpredictable. Totally awesome.

  37. TheUsualUser says:

    @Brandy (Feytouched)

    I really loved Dies the Fire, but I absolutely hated the ending. I thought it was too sudden, and too much new information being given all at once. Here we have this wonderful book with such an amazing idea, throwing all of civilization back into the dark ages, and at the very end we suddenly get this prophecy of a “chosen one.” It was just too much too soon for me. I can certainly see how it was appealing to some people, but for me that killed the whole book. I didn’t read another one in the series because I couldn’t enjoy where the author was taking the story. I’ve got too many books on my shelf with chosen ones in them already.

  38. TheUsualUser says:

    Oops, forgot to mention books that I loved the ending in. Too much of a rant on Dies the Fire, evidently. Aaaaanyway…

    Ender’s Game was the first one to come to mind. LOVED the sudden twist at the end.

    I watched 3:10 to Yuma because Dan recommended it, and it immediately jumped right up there in favorite movie endings of all time.

    I enjoyed The Shawshank Redemption’s ending because after everything the two main characters had been through, you felt like they deserved that classic happy ending.

    I recently finished Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, and thought that was a great ending, simply because the main character does not come out of the final conflict unscathed. He’s diminished, weakened, and possibly that way for the rest of his life. Sometimes your hero needs to take a permanent beating like that.

    I loved the ending of The Lies of Locke Lamora, how all the plotting and cleverness came together all at the right time. Also, Locke took a hell of a beating as well, which helped it to feel more real.

    The Name of the Wind had a satisfying ending. It was a sort of “Call to action” kind of ending that lets you know things are going to get tough for the hero and that he’s going to have to start acting rather than reacting.

    I guess the endings that I found most enjoyable weren’t necessarily the endings that always had that WOW moment. They were the endings that were right for the given book in the series. The Name of the Wind was a great ending for THAT book, but it would have been horribly lame if it were a standalone series.

  39. Avi says:

    I like the ending of Lord of the Rings – Gollum steals the ring and falls to his doom. The ring is a metaphor/symbol for power and how power corrupts. So what destroyed it was it’s own corrupting influence, it was so corrupting it destroyed itself. It wasn’t the good guys’s strength of will or dedication to good that destroyed it, it was its own evil. Although it was Frodo and Sam’s strength of character that allowed them to get the Ring to the very end.
    I also like the ending of Return of the Jedi, and the comic All-Star Superman.
    The ending of Casablanca is good because Rick makes the noble choice.

  40. Debbie says:

    Okay. I’m super late commenting here, but had to throw in that one of my very favorite endings of all time is “The Usual Suspects.” It surprises you, and makes you question the entire movie you just watched, which of course leads to seeing the movie again.

  41. Titus says:

    To (hopefully) give a different perspective, I’m going to focus on video games with good endings, though I must note that the end of Corwin of Amber’s story at the Courts of Chaos is one of my favorites.

    I like endings with some element of tragedy in them for the most part. I don’t really like the endings of books that include prophecies, as it’s just a code to crack, and often an easy code at that. Harry Potter and Hero of Ages had similarish endings, and I didn’t really like either of them. I think that they would have been better without any prophecy at all. Of course, much of the plot depended on the prophecies in both of those books, but… yeah. It’s hard for me to buy into stories with big central prophecies.

    Betrayal At Krondor: Gorath received the most character development, yet he is the only main character that dies. Also, having the backbone of the party die, despite knowing that the game was over and his stats didn’t matter, bit hard. :P Owyn’s happy ending is stained by Gorath’s death, and he’s the only character who seems to take it very hard (due to his youth?). I haven’t read the books for that part of the series.

    Oblivion (TES:IV): Similar to the above, but the PC (Player Character) is Martin’s only friend. Everyone else sees Martin as the emperor, and Martin insists that the PC doesn’t treat him as a superior. Martin is the only NPC that treats the PC with respect and as a person as well, making their conditions similar. Sean Bean’s voice acting didn’t hurt. :) I remember attempting the ending over and over again, trying to kill Mehrunes Dagon to save Martin.

    Final Fantasy VI, Morrowind (TES:III), and Arcanum were pretty good overall as well. I’m feeling too lazy to detail all of them, but yeah.

    Oh, and the ending of IANaSK! The consequences of John stealing the last victim were pretty awesome, as was the visceral horror felt in the “sucky” scene. ;P

  42. Amy says:

    Out of all the books I’ve read in my life (which is a LOT), The King of Attolia’s ending trumps them all. Megan Whalen Turner weaves such an intricate story, so many different people with different motivations, but at the end all the threads come together so perfectly…I can’t even describe it, it was so magnificent. The feeling I had at the end was one of complete, utter triumph when it was revealed that the king had been controlling events from the very first page. The main conflict had a very satisfying end–not too easy, not too weird, just right–but what really clinched it was two small details that proved beyond a doubt that the king had triumphed in every possible way. The last page ended with the soldiers praising the king with the ancient name “Basileaus,” but the head guard corrected them by saying, “No, he is Annux–a king of kings.” What a great line! What a wonderful way to end the story. I loved it, loved it, loved it.
    What made it great was ALL the threads were connected at the end. NOTHING was left unresolved. Even little things that happened 100 pages or 200 pages ago were resolved in a seamless, flowing scene. I hope that one day, I can write an ending like that.
    By the way, thanks for the great presentaion at LTUE. I can’t wait to read your book. Good luck in Germany!

  43. Laurie says:

    Resurrecting a threat here, but I have to put in a word for a book that has one of my favorite endings ever: Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. As I read the book, I thought, this is a lot of fun, but I don’t see why it won the World Fantasy award. And then I got to the ending, one of the most moving, wonderful, tear-inducing-in-a-good-way endings I have ever seen.

    Another is the climax to Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, which is wonderful in a different way. Hughart’s ending gives a happy ending, one by one, to every character the MCs encountered during their journey. In Going Postal, it’s more, how in the world is the character going to pull this off, there’s no way he’s going to pull this off, Oooooo, THAT’s how he pulls it off and it is awesome and completely unexpected and vastly better than anything I had been thinking.

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