We’ve gone over quite a few endings to stories. We’ve been through temporary victories, ultimate battles, cliffhangers, heck, even peaceful endings. That’s because the ending can change the reader’s (or watcher’s) opinion on the book/movie. It’s crucial not to mess up.
This article will be less concerned with the content involved with a sweet, sour, or bittersweet ending: more concerned with the feeling it leaves the reader with. The goal is to enhance the reader’s experience by the end, as well as satisfying yourself. Remember: never end a story in a way that you feel unsatisfied. Planning a sequel is all very good and well, but be sure you’re good and done with this one before you move on.
First, let’s make a quick run-over of the endings in question. The sweet ending is all about just desserts. (Heh…heh?) The bad guy is punished, the hero is rewarded, and we’re all one, big, happy family once more. The clouds part, the sun breaks through, the flowers bloom, the birds sing, and life is good once more. The villain’s fortress is leveled, all stolen possessions are returned to their rightful owners, and free lattes for everybody.
The sour ending takes pleasure in harnessing the exact opposite elements of the sweet ending. While it may end with a slight element of consolation, it generally ends with the villain escaping or passing unhurt to the next book while the allies have suffered sore blows. Sometimes, all the heroes die off altogether, but this is an extreme and should be avoided. A word of advice: if you feel like killing all of your characters, preserve at least one or two. You’ll thank me.
The bittersweet ending, in my opinion, is the best of endings. Especially when the author voluntarily creates one: knowing how and when, and having the will to dispose of beloved characters takes strength and wit. It makes the reader wish that the story would never end. Simply put: the story primarily ends in a good way (as in, the good guys win and the villains lose), but there is a pervading sense of loss that mars it from being a perfect victory. The allies have given up so much, paid a terrible price…in order to win. So it is a time to rejoice–and to lament.
Choosing an ending depends on what temperament of people you want to appeal to. I am very drawn to the bittersweet ending. Doubtless, however, there will be people that hate that kind of ending. Do you want to appeal to that kind of people? Many people like the story to end happily (me included). Do you want to appeal to this sect of people?
If all else fails, choose whatever ending you like best (or whatever one you think is the most appropriate given the circumstances). There’s no question as to the fact that if you like it, other people like you will also like it. Remember the fable of the old man and the donkey: you can’t please everybody.
Now, if we’re talking terms of content, then what are we doing? Be sure everything you do is to invoke a reaction from the reader. The point is that you don’t have to do a lot: just a few heart-rending things will suffice. Think: what reaction do you want from your reader? What thoughts do you want going through their head? What do you want them to be wishfully thinking about the novel once it’s over?
We talked about pain points: if need be, use them. Is Joey, the Blacksmith a fan-favorite character who has had a debilitating and fatal disease since the beginning of the book but perseveres to the very end? It would be best (and most logical) to let him rest in peace after a heroic death. If you’ve tugged the right strings, your readers will be happy and sad at his death. Happy because the reader is pleased with how the story makes sense, but sad because they were very much engrossed in the story and felt like they were there with Joey, every step of the way.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!