Taking a bus between northeast Thailand and Bangkok takes hours – usually a good six to seven. To while away the time, I watched a movie. Many of these buses have monitors at each seat and a passenger can watch a movie, listen to music, or watch a television show. The problem was that most of, well everything, is in Thai – a language I haven’t picked up yet. My main tactic in this situation is to check out every movie and watch whatever movie has English subtitles or dubbed in English. Unfortunately, I found one: The Season of the Witch.
I wish that I had had access to Rotten Tomatoes website or something similar, but I didn’t. It was passable, in that I didn’t have an urge to renounce my citizenship in an attempt to distance myself from this celluloid travesty. Not like “Attack of the Killer Clowns” (Thanks a lot, Netflix. /shudder). Anyway, I got to the end of the movie and all I could think of was this: ‘that was a stupid ending.’ But it got me thinking – how would I make it better?
Endings are hard. I don’t envy professional writers where their reputation is on the line with every novel. Even then, endings be far from great. There are few Stephen King novels that I felt ended well. I liked Thinner and the short story “The Fog,” but still feel “Needful Things,” which seemed to be a retelling of Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” had a disappointing ending.
In any case, writers have reams of information about what makes a good ending. A quick search at WritersDigest.com shows 93 books on endings. So why are they so hard? I think it’s because a story is like a funnel. In the beginning, the possibilities are near infinite. However, as the story progresses, the options that the writer has diminish. If the writer chooses high fantasy, then that rules out space aliens and inter-galactic armadas. Granted, there are cross-over stories and genres, but even those preclude other story options. And the funnel continues to narrow the story’s options until the end of the story.
I think part of the problem is that by the end of the novel, the range of satisfying endings has narrowed to only a few options. Clearly, the actions that the protagonist takes must logically stem from their personality and within their skill set and the same holds true for the antagonist. An antagonist that doesn’t put out 100% at the climax can destroy a book as well. Perhaps the greatest indicator of a failed ending though, is an inadequate emotional story. People read fiction to be moved, to feel. A story that doesn’t kick the reader in the gut emotionally is a failed book. And that is truly hard to do.