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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Endings


princess bride ending

What elements have to go into a satisfying ending?

I’m revising a YA historical paranormal manuscript, and I’ve addressed most reader and agent notes – up until the ending. Now, I’m staring at this final chapter (which granted, might need to become two chapters), and trying to figure out what to do with it.

Right now, it has the ending I envisioned when I first conceived of this story. This was how I always planned to end it. But (some) readers have been dissatisfied with it. The protagonist does not achieve her goal. Some readers have even said she ends up in the same place she was at the beginning, although I don’t think that’s true. She changed a lot during the course of the story; she’s not the same person she was in Chapter One. Some readers have said she ends the book running away from her problem. I always looked at it differently – that she was no longer going to let herself be a passive victim, that she was taking new action to save herself.

Is it possible to give her everything she wants in a Happily Ever After ending? Well, I guess I could. Things are looking grim after the climax, but I could write a totally new ending where everything turns out okay and she achieves her original goal. Problem is, if it turns out that way, it’s in spite of her actions, not because of them. Plus, that kind of a HEA in this story would be implausible and, I think, a little trite.

I thought I had a compromise between the two, but then I worried that this new idea would actually rob her of choice and put other people in charge of her fate. Isn’t it most important that, whatever happens, she’s in control at the end? (Especially when she had no control at the beginning?)

*Dianne bangs her head on her desk in frustration.*

As a reader, do you expect the Happily Ever After ending? Must the protagonist meet her goal? Can a person run away from a problem and have it be the right thing to do?

One thing’s for sure: I need to remember my favorite Neil Gaiman quote.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Something is wrong with my ending, but it’s probably not what readers have told me it is, nor will their suggestions fix it. I need to figure out what’s wrong on my own and come up with the right solution.

*more head banging here*




16 Responses to Endings

  1. Sorry you are banging your head with this one. You’re right that it needs to be your character’s choice and not what is done to her that forces the ending. I do like happy endings, but a satisfactory ending works just as well.
    Start the brainstorming and write down every ‘what if’ that comes to mind.

  2. Happy ending are good but not always right. It sounds like the idea you have is good but not transparent enough for reader to get. Agenda’s change as characters grow.

  3. Tiana Smith says:

    That quote is perfect, especially if you’ve heard your ending needs some tweaking from multiple people.

    Having read the book you’re talking about (I think I have – it *is* the one I’ve read and not a different one, right?) I at least know where you’re coming from. It’s hard to have a happy ending, while still making it realistic!

  4. Lexa Cain says:

    It sounds like you have a character arc, but the plot ending might not be quite as big a bang as people want. It is a tad disappointing if the ending happens with no real help from the heroine. Perhaps you can find a clever way to stay true to the original idea for the arc, but re-do the plotting so that the anti-heroine forces believe she’ll do nothing–are counting on it–but she pulls the rug out from under their plans by taking an unexpected action. Even if it’s only walking away an leaving them in their mess. Good luck!!

  5. J E Oneil says:

    I’m not a fan of happily ever after endings, not because the happy is bad, but because it rarely (if ever) feels realistic. I’d prefer an ending where she abandons her goal because it’s her choice. As long as it makes sense for her to abandon it, I don’t see the problem.

  6. DL Hammons says:

    No…the protagonist does not have to meet her goal, but the resolution she does reach must be equally as rewarding as the original goal? Like marrying the Prince’s brother instead of the Prince. Call me old fashioned…or a wimp…but I prefer a happy ending — even though its not the one I originally imagined. 🙂

  7. I think happy endings are trite. I’m sure you’ll figure it out, although I’m not convinced it’s wrong just because it isn’t what people expect.

  8. Amymak says:

    Fantastic quote! So sorry you are banging your head in frustration. Golly gee, you have a good conundrum. I can’t think of a book off the top of my head where I loved the book but hated the ending except for Gone With the Wind…everyone hated that ending although it was satisfying and true to form, right? We see Scarlett’s determination start rising again even when she gets exactly what she deserves. That probably doesn’t help you, but no, I don’t think everything needs to end happily ever after. It just has to be true and *satisfying. (*whatever that means to many different people…)

    p.s. Have you read “We Were Liars” by E. Lockheart. I hated the ending because it was so darn sad and yet…it worked b/c protag finally had the answers she was looking for.

  9. Ugh, endings are rough. >_< I always have trouble with them because despite all my plotting, things happen over the course of the story that I didn't plan for, so I have to make sure what I originally wanted to have the ending be fits with how the story is now.

    All I can suggest is that if your ending revolves around something specific, like the changes in your heroine, as you said, then make very sure those elements are emphasized. Even if she didn't achieve her goal, show that she knows she's changed and is taking action for herself. Good luck.

  10. Steven Symes says:

    Gaiman’s right — most readers THINK they know what’ll fix a story, but they don’t. I’m not the type who always expects a fairytale ending, but then I write some pretty dark stuff…

  11. Beate says:

    That must be frustrating, knowing you want and need to change something but not quite finding what it is. I personally think that a story should have a real ending – and real endings aren’t always happy and we don’t always achieve our goals. In the end the hero or heroine should stay true to themselves so their behavior and their conclusion makes sense. I really wish I could come up with a piece of advice that helps 🙂
    I do like that quote very much! Keeping my fingers crossed you’ll figure out soon what you need to change so you don’t have to worry about it 🙂

  12. Sarah says:

    Of course I’m saying this with no clue of your actual book/problem here….but as a reader and the mom of a young girl-type reader, I prefer characters with real agency, whatever the ending. I see that in your work (which is why I have been handing it off to my daughter to read) so I’d hate to see you take that away from your heroine. Can you find a middle ground? Or perhaps it’s the beginning that needs to change, because her original goal is what’s not right? (Sorry for the random guessing!)
    (btw we are new to your work but love everything so far!)

  13. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne .. now I know why I doubt I’ll write a novel – mine would be a complete mess. However I agree having the right ending is an essential … good luck with resolving this conundrum …

    Cheers Hilary

  14. I like happy endings, too, but some books have more value if their resolutions aren’t syrupy sweet and tied up in a shiny bow. I think if the hero or heroine learns an important life lesson and grows in the course of the story, that can be more satisfactory to readers than a facile achievement of the starting goal.

    I trust your gut instinct. You know how your story should end.

  15. Joanne Fritz says:

    Chiming in rather late here, but wanted to say that’s my favorite quote on writing too. Also a belated congrats on the four years of First Impressions!