Writing the Denouement and the Ending

As I’m frantically trying to finish my manuscript (and frustrated that I’m rewriting the ending), it’s made me think about endings of other books — which I’ve loved and which have left me disappointed.

I was explaining to Superman that most books have a “denouement” at the end — a sort of “coming down” period after the final battle against the antagonist (or after the protagonist’s final battle for the goal). It provides a moment for everyone to “calm down,” and for life to return to normal for all the characters.┬áBut sometimes this “slow period” seems to go on too long for me, making me feel the book should have ended earlier. Books with surprise endings usually have no denouement, but are often the ones we most remember.

Superman and I talked about some of our favorite endings. He said he remembers really liking the end of “The Stand,” and also “The Godfather.” I must confess, I don’t recall really loving any endings, although I was impressed with the ending of “Outlander” because it never slowed down. And I recall being satisfied with the ending of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” because it left on a high-emotion note, which I thought was good. I remember my 12th grade English teacher loving the ending of “The Great Gatsby,” which did have a long denouement but ended with a heavily symbolic last line: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

A lot of Harry Potter fans really adored the end of the Potter books: All was well. For a story that went on over a course of a long series, Rowling said in an interview that she needed something that was unambiguous and said “it’s over.” That seemed to satisfy a lot of people.

What about you? Which endings do you most recall? Do you like the “end with calm” approach, where everything is given a chance to return to order? Or do you love those surprise endings? And how important is the very last line to you? Do you recall many?

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7 thoughts on “Writing the Denouement and the Ending

  1. I love surprise endings~! But then I am easily surprised, so I’m not sure that means anything. I have a hurled a few books across the room when they ended what I considered badly. My SIL is being published in the fall but she is rewriting her ending because she did not like it, so I’m anxious to see what she changed it to. I will have to think about endings that I liked though.

    Good luck with your story~!

  2. On the Harry Potter note, I personally thought the Epilogue was cheezy. I like endings that keep me guessing a little bit, or are at least less obvious – I think if Rowling had ended the series without the epilogue (i.e. ending last chapter as it is) it would have been much better.

  3. Hi, Kat! Yeah, I’d love to hear your SIL’s perspective — on what she changed and why she changed it. Endings are so hard to write. And depending on what genre you’re in, you have different reader expectations, too, so you have to factor those in. Thanks for the luck! I’m very, very close, thank gooze-ness. (Because even I’m getting tired of these characters!)

    Alyssa — Howdy! Oh my gosh, epilogues — that’s almost a whole ‘nother post. They’re very popular in the genre I write in (romance), but I quite hate them. I think I’ll do a whole post on those. Because readers seem to love them, but I’m with you — I like to guess a bit. And I like to imagine my own happily-ever-afters. …

  4. I am reading the last Harry P book. I always read the end first, anyway, in anybook. I hate cliff hangers and since I write romance, I do alot of the HEA stuff. I want a resolution. If the book’s a series it doesn’t matter how it ends, does it? You know it’s going to continue. Obviously Gone With the Wind is memorable, because of it’s decidedly not a HEA.
    And I’m another one who knows how it’s gonna end. I see the whole picture in my head. At least with this WIP I have.

  5. For me an ending must be happy! At all costs. I am a girl with a need for happy endings. A surprise or unexpected happy ending is just icing on the cake.

    My favorite ending lines are those that make me sigh or swoon. Something that tells me that happiness is going to continue.

  6. My favirote ending was that of Breaking Dawn…
    “and then we continued blissfully into the small but perfect piece of our forever”

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