In his book Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell says there are three possible endings to a book:
- The hero gets what he wants
- The hero does not get what he wants
- The hero gets what he wants but with consequences
- We have no idea if the hero gets what he wants
I will add another one to his list which is this:
Last night, I finished a book by an author I love. As much as I enjoyed the book, I really didn’t like the ending. I thought this was because it was a bit of a cliffhanger, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was not. A cliffhanger is a #3: the hero gets what he wants with a twist. For example:
Bob wants nothing more than to find out who killed his brother. Insert long middle story…yada yada yada… Bob realizes it was Jane. He turns her into the police, but when he gets home, we see his brother hiding in the closet.
This is a cliffhanger. Bob gets what he wants with a twist. We don’t know what happens to Bob after this point. Maybe there is a sequel, maybe there is not. But the book I read last night did not have a cliffhanger ending. What it had were loose ends. For example:
Bob wants nothing more than to find out who killed his brother. Insert long middle story…yada yada yada… Bob finds out that the killer has moved to Florida.
The difference here is that Bob does not find out who killed his brother. Because this was Bob’s goal for the novel, this is considered an unfinished plot or a “loose end”. I don’t know about you, but these kinds of endings annoy me. I don’t need my stories tied up with a bow on top, but I do need an ending. Otherwise, I feel like I just wasted my time.