Devourer of Words 062: On Endings
This year is a particularly apocalyptic year when it comes to long-form stories coming to an end: Avengers: Endgame brought “some” finality to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Game of Thrones came to an end after eight seasons, and December will see the final chapter of the Skywalker saga in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Endings are as necessary to stories as beginnings … even if most comics as we know them don’t get endings. There are too many reboots and relaunches for the ending of monthly comics these days to mean much.
But let’s say you do get to end your story, that you do get to point to the bleachers and decide you’re gonna plant your last chapter in the upper deck. If you’re lucky enough to do it on your own terms, here are handful of things to keep in mind:
This Is Your Story.
You are the one who’s been telling this story, either because you created it out of whole cloth or because you’ve been entrusted with it by those who own it. No one knows the story better than you do, no matter how deep Redditors may go. Everyone and their grandmother may have thoughts about what should happen, but only you know what will happen. So be true to the story you’ve been telling when you decide how to end it. That said …
Fan Service Isn’t a Crime.
The people who’ve been reading your story for however long it’s been going are invested in it. They’ve ridden with you, they’ve trusted you with their time and money. It is not unreasonable for them to expect certain things. Giving the reader everything they want isn’t going to make anyone happy, really: not you and, surprise, not them, either. The service that fans truly want is to get something they didn’t know they wanted. I didn’t know that I wanted the finale of Marvel’s first Civil War event series to end with Captain America and Iron Man punching it out until I got it. I fully expected old Bruce Wayne’s heart to stop at the end of The Dark Knight Returns—but was thrilled when it didn’t. Find a way to surprise, otherwise, what’s the point?
There is No Right and No Wrong.
If you’re telling a story that people have loved for a decent amount of time, there will be opinions. There will be reviews. There may actually be grades. None of that actually matters, because the only true measure is one of satisfaction. The storyteller’s satisfaction. Have you ended your tale in such a way that absolves you of the need to tell any more with those characters? (That absolution might not last, especially if the decision to end the story was not yours.) You’re the one who needs to live with your decisions and, at the end of the day, if you can do that, you’re fine.
Aim for Emotional Resolution.
The reason why people stick with characters over years and years is not because they are in love with all the twists and turns, reversals and reveals. No, they’re in love with the characters that endure all of those things. Serial storytelling is about character, so the end of a serial story also needs to be about character. Tying up every loose plot thread will not lead to satisfaction in anything beyond an OCD sense. No one will say, “You know what I really loved about that ending? That I now know what happened to that minor character they introduced in the third arc.” What makes a story resonate, and what makes an ending satisfying, is a sense that where the characters wind up was the only place those characters could wind up. That they have come to their natural ends according to their nature — and that it couldn’t have happened any other way. Are they happy? Sad? Validated? Ignored? Welcomed? Shunned? Are they resolved or unfulfilled? Those are the questions we ultimately want answered, and the plot should serve the pursuit of those answers.
Avoid the Internet.
That’s just becoming a golden rule in all things. But especially in the wake of your ending hitting the world.
Finally: You Are Never Going To Please Everyone.
It’s impossible. So just please yourself. Then, on to the next story.
Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!