As we wander through the pages of a book or wend our way through the books of our lives, we often find a bend at the end. You know what I mean? In books, it’s the twist before the tie-up, an incident that might just take the story off in an entirely different direction. In life, sorry to say, the twist sometimes trips us. The slope slips, and we do too.
Sadly, the best of runners can experience a fall. Worse still to stumble at the finish line. Beginning the marathon of life—and the journey of a story—well is good. However, ending well is even better. But the trick of it frequently evades us.
“The problem with books is that they end.” –Caroline Kepnes
Do you like cliff-hanger endings? Some people loathe them, because they feel the technique is a mere enticement to buy the next book in order to finish the story. A persuasive ploy, if you will. But other readers enjoy the lure.
Some prefer to have everything neatly wrapped up, all the plot threads tied and tucked in. When I write, I like to leave a few details open-ended. But never the main story problem, especially not at the finale of a series.
Around the Bend…
But isn’t a wonderful surprise to find a bend at the end? A twist or turn that upends the story or takes it on an amazing detour?
J. R. R. Tolkien referred to this twist as the eucatastrophe. “Eu,” a Greek prefix meaning good or well, shows up in many of our English words. Eulogy, a good word. Euphoria, bearing good feelings.
So the eucatastrophe is the good upset! The happy surprise, the lucky chance. All may be going wrong—the world has collapsed in disaster—and then, something unexpected happens that changes everything. Like, after the death of Jesus Christ on the cross…the resurrection! The whole course of the gospel story switch-backed in a moment.
“Don’t adventures have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.” –J. R. R. Tolkien
In my own books, I also aim for a transformative turn at the crisis corner. Tragedy, disillusionment, and confrontation happen. And not every character—just as not every person—experiences positive change. But some sort of redemption takes place near the bend at the end.
While not every story has that Happily-Ever-After (HEA) closure, I attempt to inspire those who finish my books to feel lovely, pure, authentic. As if they’ve been refreshed, edified, and encouraged. Maybe even challenged.
Just for fun today, I’m sharing the last few sentences of the books from my story universe. Vote for your favorite if you’d like:
Endings from Desert Island Diaries
“‘You’ll be back someday,’ Nicolás said. ‘I’ll play my flute.’” –Destiny at Dolphin Bay
“Slowly, I tacked around to the path before me and sailed out the gate.” –Pursuit of the Pudú Deer
“‘Why not? You’d already been loving me with your eyes for months. It was like a homing beacon.’” –Legacy of the Linnebrink Light
Endings from First Mate’s Log
“I sensed I was about to be swept into the uncertain tempest of my future husband’s calling in life. Now it was my calling, too.” –The Seahorse Patrol
“But I could only fly in God’s name, in God’s strength. That was no secret.” –The Seagull Operation
“‘Let me out of here and get a zarpe.’ He skimmed the ring back onto my finger and pressed my hand to his lips. ‘For a long voyage, as long as we live.’” –The Sea-Silk Banner
Endings from Swan Island Secrets
“I may have won the game, but I’d lost the prize. So tomorrow I would strike my pose again.” –Swan Pose
“‘We might, Constanza, we might yet. When you start something, you never know where you’ll end up. And it helps to know where to look.’” –Swan Dive
“A grin stole over his face. Our eyes met. ‘The grandmother grapevine,’ I said.” –Swan Song
Endings from Winds of Andalucía
“He was my pearl—not smooth, not flawless, but real. When the right wind blows, it sets free.” –Pearl of Great Price
“He lifted the anchor, and we sailed with the wind back to port. Not into the sunset, but toward tomorrow’s dawn.” –Anchor of Last Hope
A Good Ending
What makes a good ending? Without doing an exhaustive study here, I’d like to suggest that a good story ending:
- Answers the story question, either explicit or implied at the beginning. Will Melissa survive her visit to Chile, or maybe even thrive? Will Valeria realize the truth about…? Does Coni get her man? In that case, the bend-at-the-end answer’s a resounding NO, but that’s okay. Since the arc of the first book in a series will continue in the next book, we know the question will be reformulated. Or the character may set a different goal.
- Ties up the loose ends. Not all the issues have to be solved, but most of the main plot threads should see some resolution. For example [spoiler alert], in Destiny at Dolphin Bay, this means Melissa’s problems at school, the mystery of the ghost ship Caleuche, and the disappearance of the dolphins. There’s also the recovery following the earthquake and the relationships with the grandmas. Plus various friends and enemies, including her special connection with Nicolás and her nemesis Delicia (who both reappear in Pudú). Ahem, I know, that’s a LOT.
- Leaves you with a sense of satisfaction. Whether or not the story climaxes in HEA for everyone, it must hint in some way of the main character’s future. A good ending carries a sense of completion.
Which leads to a better-than-good story…
“The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.” –Mickey Spillane
A Great Ending
What marks a truly outstanding final chapter? A great ending…
- Hones poetic justice to fine precision, taking the idea of satisfaction to a higher level. It feels right, as if the story couldn’t end in any other way.
- Bookends beginning and end something like a musical score repeats a succession of notes. A great ending reflects the opening in a subtle way, like the echo of a perfect harmony.
- Folds in a bend at the end. The twist or surprise, the unexpected eucatastrophe. It takes an exceptional storyteller to weave in this God moment yet still work it organically into the tale.
- Spurs you to keep reading. Either to start the same book again or go on to the next books in a series. These stories feed you like Chinese food, filling you up and then making you hungry all over again!
“Every new beginning comes from other beginnings’ end.” –Seneca
The story of our lives never really ends. Of course, you know the chapters of life roll on, but many matters remain unresolved even to our final days on earth. Then at the end, either the next person picks up the baton we’ve left behind or picks up the pieces of baggage we’ve scattered along the road. How I long to set things up well for the next generation’s run.
Droplet Gift #34: I will cooperate with the Author and Editor of my story and await with bated breath the last turn before the finish line.
I don’t know ahead of time what lines my Author will write. I’ve read no preview of how my life is going to end. But I trust His plan, and I’m persuaded of His promise that “…my words do the work I sent them to do. They’ll complete the assignment I gave them” (Isaiah 55:11, MSG).
“Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.’” –Elisabeth Elliot
Never futility, fruitlessness, or faded glory. Not waste or empty wishes. The bend at the end may startle or even scare us to death. But it won’t destroy us.
“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” –Robert Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra
My husband and I have the above quote in our bedroom to remind us that every day we live is another special blessing. Even the worst seems better together.
Who can tell whether the pages since our move to Coquimbo will turn into the best and most productive years of our lives? With the panic and upheaval of a worldwide pandemic, we’ve certainly experienced cataclysm here…and not the good kind. It’s tempting to dread the bend.
Will a final surprise pop up near the end? I remind myself that though I didn’t invent this plot, whatever happens, it’s not the real end of my story.
The never-ending saga will continue on. In another setting, a magnificent city full of splendid characters and superb heroes. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. All tears will be cried and dried, all the threads are tied, and love eventually triumphs over all.
Around the bend at the end, God’s children live happily ever after. And that’s my favorite finale.
Lord, don’t take me home until… I’ve finished my race with joy and every book you’ve put in my heart to write.