The Importance of Endings

I’ve been working on the final chapter of my novel for a few weeks now. Not that the old one wasn’t working. Of my eighteen beta readers, only one reader picked up the flaws at the climax and they didn’t mention it until literally yesterday. No, I mean it. Yesterday. Literally.

The thing that's been on my mind a lot lately is the importance of endings.

The other day I tried to track down a Gardner Dozois quotation that made a big impact of me – I think it was from one of his Best SF of the Year anthologies. In it, he mentioned a couple good novels that came out during the year he was reviewing and he paused to contemplate how great they might have been if their endings had been the same quality as the rest of the book. I remember how much it resonated with me because I too had just read several potentially great novels that fell apart or simply petered out when it mattered most – during the climax that ends the book!

This is a thing writers do - spend five years writing their masterpiece and get so excited at the prospect of finishing, they send it out into the world with a half baked ending.


Endings are the last part of the book the writer commits to the page. Everything leading up to that gets groomed and rewritten within an inch of its life. All things being equal – the ending should get as much attention as any other part of the novel. But things are far from equal. The ending is what the reader will remember when they put down the book. Along with the opening that convinces people to read it in the first place, it’s the most important part of the book. Ask an anthologist, "Where do you put the best stories in the book?" If they know what they're doing, they will tell you, "At the beginning and at the end." Sure, its good to front load the book; to put your strongest hook where people are most likely to find it. But if you want people to remember the book, there's nothing better than a closer that blows your mind. Ask a salesperson about the most important part of a pitch. If you can't close, then you've just wasted all the time and effort and goodwill that you've invested.

Like a gymnast, with the most amazing routine in the world, if you don’t stick the ending, then no gold medal for you.

A great ending can take a 3/5 movie and turn it into a 5/5. Think Planet of the Apes or Soylent Green.

Endings have even become important on television. Back in the network tv days, series seldom had endings. They would simply continue from week to week until the ratings fell off and then disappear. Which wasn’t as much of a problem as it seems, because storylines seldom spanned multiple episodes. Every episode was self-contained and had its own ending. Networks were loathe to change the cast on hit shows, and it drained the tension to know that the stars were never really in peril.

Things began to change in the 80s with family sagas like Dallas and Dynasty – where the big stories would carry on no matter what transpired in any given episode. By the start of the new millennium, networks were losing viewer loyalty by cancelling series with ongoing storylines. My favourite showrunner reaction to this was on a little known but terrific little ensemble horror series called The Others. The final episode was essentially a montage showing every single one of the major characters getting killed off by the big bad. In a medium where endings were rare, it was priceless.

With shows like The Sopranos, Deadwood, and Lost – story arc became much more important. Individual episodes were like chapters in a book. The series’ themselves needed big climaxes and strong endings in order to go out with a bang.

Breaking Bad is considered a true classic at least partly because of its great ending, while Game of Thrones will be remembered by most for its horribly disappointing and rushed ending.

So, clearly, endings are absolutely

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