I've been teaching creative writing for many years and in that time countless people have told me that they've thought up a fantastic idea for a novel, story or play. Very often these ideas are fantastic to the point that I wished I'd thought of the myself. I have such ideas myself. Superb locations, three dimensional characters and a plot with more that its share of twists and turns.
No one has ever approached me with a fantastic idea that comes with a satisfying, well thought out and unexpected ending. An ending, yes, but something memorable? That's a lot harder.
Have you ever spent time reading a story, watching a film or play and been disappointed at the the way things turned out? I suspect we all have. Have you ever read a book and felt that the writer concentrated more on the first half of the book, the half that got your interest, than they did on the second half?
We end up coming away from these experiences feeling let down and possibly avoiding anything else by the writer whose ending wasn't up to much.
I've just read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
What fantastic plotting and planning has gone into this piece of work. Before I got to the ending I made a couple of predictions about what it might be. I was wrong and the ending she gave had both a sense of finality about it and a sense of implications for the future.
When I wrote my play Have I Enough for BBC Radio 4 the producer didn't like the last couple of sentences that formed the ending and asked me to come up with something more pleasing. I didn't have a plan B and so came up with a technique for getting ideas from nowhere that I call wracking my brains!! I'm also a great list writer and so I made myself write a list of five suitable endings. Not an easy task.
Are your story endings as breathtaking as your opening lines? If not, why not?
Have you -
Spent more time on the beginning than the ending.
Focussed your attention on how it starts but not how it ends.
Forgotten your audience.
Failed to plot thoroughly.
Considered all the ways in which the story might possibly end.
Why not dig through some of your work. A piece that you're not quite happy with or that has been rejected. Re-write the ending. Doing that will involve some re-writing throughout but it might eradicate an ending that's not surprising, too predictable, not worth waiting for.
To strengthen your endings
Make sure you know what your characters want - do they get it? do they get something better, worse? Understand the big things that they want, such as a perfect partner/job or a car. Also understand their small needs such as good coffee, restaurants that don't have carpeted floors, clothes that flatter their body shape.
Make your characters three dimensional and complex so that you have plenty of material to work with.
And when you've done that....read Gone Girl for inspiration.