Recently, I enjoyed a weekend long marathon of an anime series called Berserk with some friends. This 26 episode story left each and everyone of us riveted and captivated throughout the first 25 episodes. Many of my friends clamoured about how "awesome the series was", how "incredible the score was written", how "beautiful the art assets were", and above all how "amazing the story had played out!". However, the excitement and enthusiasm generated by the first 25 episodes was soon sucked from the room as we finished the 26th. Many were dissapointed, frustrated, and even angered that the last episode ended the way it did. Many who just 30 minutes prior had been praising the amazingess of the series were decrying its' awfulness.
Likening the above to a novel, how important is the ending? Does the ending define the entire novel? If not should it? Here we had watched over 96% of Beserk and it had acheived god-like anime status in our minds. However, with one fell swoop of one episode (a mere 4%), the entire story suddenly "sucked" in the minds of my friends. It was as if the first 25 hadn't mattered at all.
Can a dissapointing ending destory the entire experience of a novel? Perhaps even redefine the entire worth of a story? Vice versa, could a great ending save a bad story?
July 2nd, 2007, 10:44 PM
A good ending can't save a bad story, partly because people will never get to it. Also, think about it a minute...how is a story that doesn't work suddenly going to end well?
A bad ending ususally has just the effect you described. I LOVE Terry Gilliam, the director, but his early films just had sucky endings. Fortunately he learned how to do better than the letdowns at the end of Time Bandits and Brazil
But I still like those films, even though the endings suck. This is less common in novels, I would say.
Obviously the ending is an extremely important element in a good story. I almost always write them very early in the work, then "write up to them".
I've always thought it was assinine that agents and editors always insist on seeing the first 50 pages or 3 chapters or a book, but don't want an early decided look at the ending.
July 2nd, 2007, 10:51 PM
A good story should end, or even finish. It should never just stop. And I have read that kind of book once or twice.
Ending well is high on the list. Readers feel betrayed when they read through a whole story to a crummy ending. Sometimes they get the rest of the villagers, along with pitchforks and torches ...
July 3rd, 2007, 12:42 AM
A good ending cannot redeem a bad story, but a bad ending can damn a good story.
July 3rd, 2007, 02:28 AM
You need a good beginning if you want people to buy your book.
You need a good ending if you want people to buy your next book. :D
July 3rd, 2007, 03:07 AM
What hippokrene said :)
The sense of anticlimax that goes with a poor ending puts me off reading more by the same author. I will readily forgive a sluggish opening if the end justifies what has gone before.
July 3rd, 2007, 07:57 AM
You didn't like the Eclipse? My sister's still haunted by it. ^_^
In Berserk's case, keep in mind that wasn't the end. The manga is still running. They simply adapted the tamest arc of the story to make the anime. It comes full circle, ending with Guts claiming the Dragon Slayer and going forth on the path of revenge as the Black Swordsman. Yes, we're left wanting more, but all things considered, I think it's a rather satisfying ending. (Far less disappointing than the way they ended the IY anime, if you ask me.) Do the events of the Eclipse suck beyond belief? Of course, but that's because we've grown attached to all these charas who became frickin' demon chow.
Anyway, as for the main question, I'm also in the camp that puts a high value on the ending. On one level or another, you've got to leave your reader satisfied, even if you're just setting yourself up for a sequel. You've also got to be true to the material (no pulling stuff out of your fourth point of contact) and not insult the reader's intelligence (see the previous). Like good writing, a good ending isn't all that hard to pull off, but a great ending takes something extra.
July 3rd, 2007, 09:50 AM
Anyway, as for the main question, I'm also in the camp that puts a high value on the ending. On one level or another, you've got to leave your reader satisfied, even if you're just setting yourself up for a sequel.
I think it is more difficult to provide an appropriate, really satisfying ending (very important, I agree) and set up the reader for a sequel.
In my last book, I used a prologue and an epilogue (both only a page or so); the prologue is a kind of brief "prequel" to explain the setting of the plot, the epilogue returns to the same scene (for the only time in the book) in very different circumstances. I think it "completes the circle" quite neatly (although that isn't for me to judge), but also sets up a sequel should I wish to write one. I was quite chuffed with that :)
July 3rd, 2007, 07:12 PM
Ironically, your approach sounds rather similar to what they did with the Berserk anime.
While setting things up for a sequel is one thing, setting things up for a sequel while completing the story adequately enough for the book to act as a standalone takes some real acrobatics.
Under normal circumstances, I think that satisfying the reader in regards to sequel preparation is a matter of leaving them happy with what they've gone through but wanting more. I'm reminded of my mom's reaction to Kill Bill Vol. 1. Once Bill asks Sofie "Does she know about her daughter?", the movie ends and Mom was not happy at the thought of waiting four months to see what was next (but in a good way). If you can get your reader anxious like that, it's a good thing. (Just don't dawdle too long on getting the followup out there.)
July 4th, 2007, 01:26 AM
I think the best way to set up for a sequel is to not kill all of your characters. But it does help to actually finish the story at hand. There has to be some form of conclusion in order for a story to end-it's a rule. I hate stories that spend pages and pages setting up the situation, and just when things are at their worst, the characters are moving on to a new setting, and you'll find out all about it in the next book. --Aargh!
I try to aviod writing one story while keeping a sequel in mind. Of course it doesn't always work that way, but in almost every case, a sequel is not mandatory. Some storys are finished at the end. Let those characters alone, they have a life now. Go bother someone else.