For readers, the ending of a story offers closure – and more than just literally coming to its last word. They’ve been on a journey with a character who they became emotionally invested in. A good storyteller understands this and so offers an ending that addresses the readers’ psychological needs.
While there are multiple ways to accomplish this, generally, stories end in one of three ways – normalize world order, wish-fulfillment, or a conceptual breakthrough.
Normalize world order
When the main character solves the central problem that set the story in motion, the ending marks a “return to normal.” In short, the world exists at story’s end just as it did before the story began. This form of story is melodramatic in nature and so common in genre fiction. While most readers expect a “return to normal” since it’s a convention of Euro-American storytelling, your tale need not be limited to this kind of ending. Instead, make the journey more interesting by having characters learn something along the way that cause them to change for the better. In this way, order is restored but the world – at least for one character – is better than before.
In these story endings, once the character solves the problem, he becomes rich, famous, a champion, gets the perfect woman, etc. In some way, his status improves. The potential problem with such an ending is that it often is unrealistic, even absurd, when one thinks about it. After all, what really are the chances that Luke Skywalker would fire the one shot that hits just the right spot so that he destroys the Death Star? I know, I know, the chances are “one in a million.” But that’s the point. Such endings, of course, are expected in specific genres. For example, in romances, the girl will get the guy; in westerns, the bad guy will suffer frontier justice.
This ending involves the main character learning a valuable lesson, also known as a “conceptual breakthrough,” that causes characters to grow as people. Such endings are the point of more literary-oriented stories. While even genre fiction centers on some type of lesson or sacrifice that a character learns or makes that allows him to solve the problem, such as believing the ends don’t justify the means, the difference is that a conceptual breakthrough marks a significant turning point in the character’s outlook on life. The character becomes a different person than the one he was at story’s beginning.
Of course, there is overlap among these different types of endings. In fact, all three could theoretically occur in a tale.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.