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Let's Talk Story Resolution

Mythopoet

Auror
Recently I've read a couple books that really disappointed me with their story resolution. Not plot resolution, or climax resolution. I mean the way the story as a whole is brought to an end.

You see, these books had zero denouement and little falling action. Both ended mere moments after the conflict was won by the heroes with someone making a flippant remark. And then BAM the book is over. Technically, the story has answered the major questions and resolved the plot. But I still find myself extremely dissatisfied. I feel like I've just had the door to the story slammed in my face after being given the bare minimum of an ending. What happens next? How is all the fallout from the conflict resolved? What happens to the supporting characters? How does the climax and it's results impact the world and characters at large? Endings like this very rarely answer any of these questions. I don't feel like I've been told a complete story.

So I was wondering how others felt about this topic. Do you prefer quick, snappy endings or longer, more thorough endings? Do you like to have as many story questions as possible answered or are you content to have only the major questions answered? And does your preference as a reader influence the way you tell your own stories?
 

Nimue

Auror
I feel that I've come to appreciate a brief ending as long as it's done with elegance and aplomb and fits the tenor of the story as a whole, but deep down...I want to know everything. Tell me who marries who, what they name their children, that the kingdom goes into a golden age, the magical prognosis for the next hundred years, everything. Yeah, I realize it's possible for that to drag, but I also tend to like the kind of stories that make that ending possible. I want my heavily-implied-if-not-guaranteed happy ending, dammit.
 

yachtcaptcolby

Minstrel
For me, it depends on the story. If it's a big character-driven epic, then yeah...some sort of epilogue would be nice, at the very least. If, however, it's meant to be more of a slice-of-life thing, or if the focus is more thematic or action-driven that character-based, abrupt is fine by me.
 
C

Chessie

Guest
Just deliver on your promises.

Please!

For example, I recently finished a fantasy romance that had me enthralled until about 3/4 of the way through. There was promise of a dragon from the beginning when the MC finds a scale on the ground. Well, shit. She kills the damn thing in a millisecond at the end!

I screamed so loud it scared my husband who had on headphones across the room. Like...no! No one kills a dragon with a snappy mind trick. Now I'm annoyed because I have the second book sitting in my Kindle and I'm like, "hell no."

So deliver on your promises. By that I mean, know what it is that you're telling the readers you're going to do from the beginning. Understand their expectations. And you will know what those are because you're also a reader. Don't write an entire book with promises of a dragon, keep the dragon hidden through most of the book save for a couple signs, then have this amazing glorious terrifying beautiful supreme being that is a dragon of folklore be killed by a ****ing telepath in a hot sec.

*The dragon is interchangeable depending on your story promises.
 
Yeah, I've had that happen before. It was a little annoying, but more like a letdown than a major problem with the book. A second series with different main characters actually included a reappearance of the two primary characters from the first diptych, allowing us to gather from tidbits some idea of what followed in that original story. This helped. (I'd actually made a trip to Amazon to review the first diptych, writing about my frustration with the lack of any sort of satisfying denouement.)

I think a decent workaround is having the characters themselves react to the outcome of the climax/plot and perhaps make plans for the future or contemplate the future as the recently-changed context sinks in. A sequel (in scene-sequel terms). This way an extended epilogue or denouement isn't necessary.
 
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Mythopoet

Auror
Just deliver on your promises.

Please!

For example, I recently finished a fantasy romance that had me enthralled until about 3/4 of the way through. There was promise of a dragon from the beginning when the MC finds a scale on the ground. Well, shit. She kills the damn thing in a millisecond at the end!

I screamed so loud it scared my husband who had on headphones across the room. Like...no! No one kills a dragon with a snappy mind trick. Now I'm annoyed because I have the second book sitting in my Kindle and I'm like, "hell no."

So deliver on your promises. By that I mean, know what it is that you're telling the readers you're going to do from the beginning. Understand their expectations. And you will know what those are because you're also a reader. Don't write an entire book with promises of a dragon, keep the dragon hidden through most of the book save for a couple signs, then have this amazing glorious terrifying beautiful supreme being that is a dragon of folklore be killed by a ****ing telepath in a hot sec.

*The dragon is interchangeable depending on your story promises.

This is good advice, but I don't think it's quite what I'm talking about. Since I'm talking about after the plot has been resolved and the main promises of the story have been fulfilled.
 

Mythopoet

Auror
I think a decent workaround is having the characters themselves react to the outcome of the climax/plot and perhaps make plans for the future or contemplate the future as the recently-changed context sinks in. A sequel (in scene-sequel terms). This way an extended epilogue or denouement isn't necessary.

This isn't a workaround, this is a version of precisely what I'm talking about. The book I just finished last night spared not even the slightest moment toward thinking about the aftermath and the future. I'm not necessarily asking for a whole chapter devoted to denouement or something like that. Even a paragraph of resolution would have been nice. But there was literally nothing.
 
There are two errors, each equally annoying.

You can get out too early and steal the satisfaction of the ending by failing to fully show the effects and implications the ending has on the characters. What has changed? What has happened not just in the larger scheme of things but also on the smaller scale of the characters' personal lives? This, I think, is what readers need to be satisfied truly by an ending.

OR you can linger too long and get tangled in the aftermath, dragging it out long after the story should have ended. I've read endings like this too. After too much of the aftermath i get impatient, and i leave the story feeling distaste rather than satisfaction.

I totally agree about the scene/sequel thing; after, and not before, the response/implications to the ending is shown, you get out because that's when the story is truly over.

HOWEVER...

The response/aftermath part can sometimes be implied or left to the reader's imagination. Sudden endings can work if they invite the reader to consider the implications, completing the story in the reader's mind if not on the page.
 
Just deliver on your promises.

Please!

For example, I recently finished a fantasy romance that had me enthralled until about 3/4 of the way through. There was promise of a dragon from the beginning when the MC finds a scale on the ground. Well, shit. She kills the damn thing in a millisecond at the end!

I screamed so loud it scared my husband who had on headphones across the room. Like...no! No one kills a dragon with a snappy mind trick. Now I'm annoyed because I have the second book sitting in my Kindle and I'm like, "hell no."

So deliver on your promises. By that I mean, know what it is that you're telling the readers you're going to do from the beginning. Understand their expectations. And you will know what those are because you're also a reader. Don't write an entire book with promises of a dragon, keep the dragon hidden through most of the book save for a couple signs, then have this amazing glorious terrifying beautiful supreme being that is a dragon of folklore be killed by a ****ing telepath in a hot sec.

*The dragon is interchangeable depending on your story promises.

Ugh, I'm feeling your frustration, and with dragons this is a common problem. I've read so many books where the author hints at dragons for countless pages and when they finally show up it's a huge disappointment. No one cares to write a really "dragon-y" story, it seems, they just spend forever building up to dragons to drop one as barely a blip on the story-wide scale. Or else the dragons are just plot devices with no personality, uniqueness or splendor about them. No one seems to really DELVE IN. It's like, "LOOK! DRAGON!" and it's over.

It bugs me. It really bugs me.
 

La Volpe

Sage
I think a decent workaround is having the characters themselves react to the outcome of the climax/plot and perhaps make plans for the future or contemplate the future as the recently-changed context sinks in. A sequel (in scene-sequel terms). This way an extended epilogue or denouement isn't necessary.

I think this is a good point. If you follow the scene/sequel format (or just anything that is loosely a pattern of action/reaction) then I think you should be starting with a scene and ending with a sequel. Ending with a scene will leave a part of the story unfinished; the reaction of the characters to the climax.

You can, like Dragon mentioned, make the denouement too long. E.g. Ender's Game (though I quite enjoyed it, a few people I know didn't like that it was so long.)
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Hmmm...

Been grappling with this in a way. From the 'Empire' series of novellas.

'Empire: Country' ends with the MC recovering from a massacre and receiving notice of a summons to the Imperial Court.

'Empire: Capital' ends with a failed imperial assassination, and the MC and her entourage being quietly ushered out of town.

'Empire: Estate' ends with the MC voluntarily departing with the villain, and the other MC's starting off in pursuit.

'Empire: Metropolis' ends with the aftermath of a major failed ritual, which results in a portal transporting the villain, the MC, and a couple of others to another planet altogether...while one of her retainers remains behind, precisely because I needed somebody to witness/help clean up the aftermath.

'Empire: Spiral' ends with one dying MC making a unwise vow to the villain, and another (back on the first planet) escaping into exile with some strange companions.

'Empire: Judgment,' last in the series, ends with the MC's forging new lives for themselves on another (third) planet. I'm figuring two or three chapters and 10,000+ words here.
 
Interestingly, my WIP began life as its denouement. I banged out a short story about a group of people quietly piecing their lives together after a terrible incident back in June, and it was only on coming across it a couple of months later that I realised I wanted to tell its prequel, so to speak.

So while I usually struggle with satisfying endings, this time I think I have it in the bag.
 

Mythopoet

Auror
OR you can linger too long and get tangled in the aftermath, dragging it out long after the story should have ended. I've read endings like this too. After too much of the aftermath i get impatient, and i leave the story feeling distaste rather than satisfaction.

This is interesting. I agree with you in theory, but in practice I don't think I've ever come across a story that I felt lingered too long. (Not that I remember anyway.) But I come across the abrupt ending over and over and over and over again. Which makes me think that cutting off too soon is probably the more likely mistake to make. But I could be wrong! :)
 

glutton

Inkling
Ugh, I'm feeling your frustration, and with dragons this is a common problem. I've read so many books where the author hints at dragons for countless pages and when they finally show up it's a huge disappointment. No one cares to write a really "dragon-y" story, it seems, they just spend forever building up to dragons to drop one as barely a blip on the story-wide scale. Or else the dragons are just plot devices with no personality, uniqueness or splendor about them. No one seems to really DELVE IN. It's like, "LOOK! DRAGON!" and it's over.

It bugs me. It really bugs me.

My last story that featured a dragon has a 10+ page city-spanning destructive brawl between the MC and dragon near the end followed by another shorter fight after the dragon flees and the MC goes to hunt it down, I specialize in the kind of MC that can have extended physical fights with giant creatures of myth though XD
 

Malik

Auror
I had to do exactly this when I ended my first book. The story picks up again a couple of weeks later. I didn't write an ending so much as I chose the best place for an intermission, as I didn't want to make Book I 900 pages long. Sometimes the story arc forces us into awkward choices.
 
I had to do exactly this when I ended my first book. The story picks up again a couple of weeks later. I didn't write an ending so much as I chose the best place for an intermission, as I didn't want to make Book I 900 pages long. Sometimes the story arc forces us into awkward choices.

I've read series where each book has a proper ending, and I've read series where each book ends with so many unanswered questions, it's impossible to have any kind of closure without reading through to the last book of the series. I know some readers who won't read the latter kind of series until the whole series has been published. They don't want to get invested in the series and then have the author bail on them or delay the next book for an insufferably long time.

For the ending of my WIP, my debut novel and the first in a planned series, I've tried implementing a hybrid ending, one that doesn't answer all questions -- there's still a lot of story to come in the sequels -- but does have closure of sorts for one particular situation and has some of the characters briefly discussing what's just occurred and possibilities for the future. I don't have any expectation that my approach will persuade all readers who want each book of a series to have a satisfactory ending, but maybe it will suffice for some of them. When you have a storyline that requires multiple books to tell it, it's not easy finding a spot to end each book that every potential reader will be happy with.
 
C

Chessie

Guest
Hm...

May it also have something to do with writing advice? I've either read or seen on youtube videos a few authors state that endings should be short and straight to the point, mainly because the 3rd act is your resolution anyway. Meaning, most of your story resolution and character arc will be dealt with by the climax, so all your readers need to know at the end is who lives happily ever after (if anyone at all).

So maybe this? I think it also depends on whether the book is in a series.
 

Caged Maiden

Staff
Article Team
okay, so this thread has gotten me thinking about endings...and dragons. Both of which I have, but now I'm thinking it won't be satisfying. In chapter three, I introduce a legend about dragons, and in the first draft, they found the dragon in the end, and let it free. Bu that feels too predictable now, so I was going to do a bittersweet ending. They find the dragon, but it's dead. But there are three baby dragons among the corpse. They take the baby dragons and return them to a goddess who wanted the big dragon returned to her in the first place. Does that feel like a let-down?
 

TheKillerBs

Inkling
I think you'd be fine as long as you promised a bittersweet ending and didn't bill the book as being about dragons. Unfortunately the latter bit may fall outside your control.
 
okay, so this thread has gotten me thinking about endings...and dragons. Both of which I have, but now I'm thinking it won't be satisfying. In chapter three, I introduce a legend about dragons, and in the first draft, they found the dragon in the end, and let it free. Bu that feels too predictable now, so I was going to do a bittersweet ending. They find the dragon, but it's dead. But there are three baby dragons among the corpse. They take the baby dragons and return them to a goddess who wanted the big dragon returned to her in the first place. Does that feel like a let-down?

I'd be fine with that if I didn't go in thinking the book would be ABOUT a dragon.

Unfortunately, publishers may market any book with a dragon in it as being about dragons, because dragons are so...marketable.

Maybe THAT's the origin of my frustration...
 
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