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When should a story end?

justanybody

I have written several stories and posted them to SOL at the point where I originally intended to end them. Comes the reader feedback screaming that"it can't end there",so I write a sequel. The sequel gets posted and I get killed for writing the thing.

How do you know when it's the right time to end a story?

Eagleye

The right time, I think, is when the writer decides. Sometimes you run out of plot line, sometimes you just get tired of the story. If you want to write a sequel, then do so!

Switch Blayde

@justanybody

Every plot has conflict. The story ends when the conflict is resolved (conflict resolution). There's a clean-up period after that to tie up loose ends, but the story is basically over. So that's when it ends.

Every time I wrote a sequel or more story because readers begged for it, I was disappointed with it. In fact, when I updated "The Preacher's Wife" to post on SOL, I deleted the extra 5 chapters that I wrote due to reader feedback.

ElDani
Updated:

Speaking as a reader, we always want more of those things we enjoy the best. We make requests for that without thinking about what it would do to a story, or if a sequel would be a good thing or not.

In the end, only the author can decide if he or she is satisfied with prolonging or continuing a story, series or universe.

Don't blame the readers though for wanting yet another piece of that delicious piece of apple pie, it's an honest form of flattery.

Crumbly Writer

Instead of continuing a story, I sit on it. Many stories I never intended a sequel for have developed in my brain while I'm doing other things.

As justanybody said, every story has a conflict, they also have themes. Each story has to say something unique about the human condition. If you can develop a separate theme from the rest of the story, then it's worth writing another book. But simply adding chapters--unless it's to clean up the story--won't be very satisfactory. A sequel needs to ask it's own questions and advance the story in a new direction. Once you get those details ironed out, then the conflict should develop naturally.

And 'conflict' doesn't always mean 'a new bad guy'. Often, it's learning something new, facing a new hurdle or challenge. But, if none of those things are present, then DON'T waste time writing a new sequel.

Replies:   tppm
Switch Blayde
Updated:

There's a saying in fiction writing: "If it doesn't move the plot forward, delete it." That pertains to both narrative and dialogue. That's what happened in my story "The Preacher's Wife." The story ended when the heroine became sexually liberated. The 5 chapters I added (and eventually deleted) were simply putting her through various sex scenes (as a sexually liberated woman). I could have kept writing those forever, but I don't write soap operas.

So the question is: "What's plot?"

If it's a soap opera type story, which is very popular on SOL, there really isn't a plot. You put characters through various situations. In that case, the story doesn't end (until the ratings go down or the author gets bored with it).

But in a structured story, whether it be a short story or novel, there's, well, structure. You have an inciting incident that starts the conflict. The protagonist wants/needs something and the antagonist is in the way. The story is all about resolving that conflict and ends when the conflict is resolved (btw, if it's not resolved, it's a tragedy, as in Greek Comedy/Tragedy).

A short story might have one conflict. A novel most likely has many mini-conflicts that arise when trying to resolve the main conflict. The protagonist resolves a mini-conflict which leads to another mini-conflict. But the main conflict stays unresolved. As I said in my earlier post, when that's resolved the story is basically over.

Now in the soap opera model, all you have are mini-conflicts, no overarching main conflict. That's why they don't have to end.

If you write a sequel, it's basically a new story with a new main conflict. The conflict may be similar, such as with the Jason Bourne stories, but each novel follows the same structure (inciting incident through plot's climax (conflict resolution)).

Zine

People write because they have something to say that they think lends itself better to that venue. When that something has all been said, the author has reached The Successful End. And then they reach for more. Pity.

Wheezer
Updated:

IMHO, a sequel should seldom be a continuation of the exact same plotline of the original. I prefer to see a new story with the same characters in a new adventure with new conflict. It should show growth in the characters, and may advance their personal relationships. The sequel should, to as great of an extent as possible, be able to be read as a stand-alone work without the reader being hopelessly lost without reading the original. That's just my opinion of course. I've enjoyed many series of books that require reading the previous works.
-Wheezer-

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
richardshagrin

Free advice, costs you nothing, worth the price.

I picked up somewhere and think its true, the best endings are at life changing events. The hero or heroine gets married, the hero graduates from school, gets hired for a new job, gets a promotion, a medal, retires, has a child, or finds a new partner. The only life changing event that doesn't usually make a good ending is the death of the protagonist (a good non-sexual word, saves using hero or heroine, and doesn't even have to be very heroic.) Which is why fairy tales end "and they lived happily ever after." Readers don't want you to kill off the character they invested their reading hours liking. Arthur Cannon Doyle tried it with Sherlock Holmes and the waterfall, but protests brought him back.

red61544

I worked as an editor for three different periodicals and a weekly newspaper over forty-three years. When a story began to wander, I always asked a simple question: "May I see the outline you are following." Almost inevitably, the author would get a serious case of the "wellas", like in "wella...wella...wella...wella." If you use a detailed outline, you always know where you are going and when you are finished. I know many authors try to function without an outline, but the best authors wouldn't think of it.

tppm

@Crumbly Writer

Each story has to say something unique about the human condition


Most stories since the first story tellers around the cave fire have failed miserably at that. There just aren't that many unique things about the human condition.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Wheezer

An example might help. In my "Great Death" series, the Series' conflict is fighting for survival. In book one, "Love and Family During the Great Death" (I've always hated that name), the conflict was simply continuing against overwhelming odds (i.e. living fully in the face of death).

In "Grappling with Survival", the conflict is in getting people to trust you to make them sick in order to help them. There was also a minor conflict about someone trying to kill them.

In the last book, "Seeding Hope Among the Ashes", the conflict is reaching enough people to provide immunity before winter sets in, with minor conflicts of trust young women to lead.

RichardShagrin, as someone who's killed off several of my main character, it can be done, but you've got to be very careful about it. It takes a LOT of thought, and NOT just getting bored and killing them to finish the story so it won't restart.

Richardshagrin, we've had many discussions about this on the old SOL forum. Most of the regulars here don't use story outlines. They have them, but they keep them in their heads since they often shift during writing.

Replies:   richardshagrin
Ernest Bywater

@justanybody

To me, a story ends when you've told the story you started to tell at the start. There may be things that can go one after that, but they are a different story. One thing I try to do is include notes to close off minor issues that people may raise in emails so they don't hang over.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@tppm

You don't have to describe the human condition in each story, but themes help authors focus on what's important in a story, and what is chaff. Underneath all the plot points, most authors are essentially presenting a single point, though it often not expressed explicitly. In my previous example (about themes), the overall theme was to keep plugging away, no matter the odds. That's not a recommended theme for most books, but it fit the story, the characters and their circumstances. By following the basic theme, it allowed me to focus on the story's message, rather than on minor plot points.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Ernest, that's why I like epilogues. You can't use them for most stories, simply because of the genre (i.e. they don't fit into mysteries), but they help wrap up all the details. What's more, if there's an unsettling ending, it helps reestablish the framework of the story.

HarryCarton

I once read a series of commercially published novels by a well known author (Name Withheld to protect the guilty). It was a well written tale about the invasion of Earth by an alien power that was *almost* unstoppable.

As each volume ended, the humans won - or lost - and the tension continued to build. I read each new novel almost with bated breath.

As I reached the final book, the humans still left alive on our poor planet lost a battle but wiped out the remaining bad guys. Then another invasion fleet arrived with more bad guys about 3/4 through the book.

But then *whammo* A hitherto unheard of race of new aliens shows up and in the blink of a laser beam (or two) wipes out the bad guy aliens. End of book and end of series.

I was so angry at the author. It was like he ran out of ideas or was no longer interested so he just invented a deus ex machina to finish with.

I never read another book by ...(Sorry, can't put his name here.) If you recognize your own work, you'll know why your book sales were 1 lower forever.

so... DON'T do what he did. FINISH the story, if it's a long story.

Imagine if RoustWriter in his great and very long tale Arlene and Jeff just wrote in his next chapter "They lived happily ever after and the aliens left." Wouldn't that suck?

But don't write a single word more than you have to. When a story is done, it's done.

ElDani

@HarryCarton

FINISH the story, if it's a long story.

I would rather have an incomplete story than to experience exactly what you have described. At least for me, the bad parts tend to stick a lot more in my mind than the good ones. A weak ending, a single out of character sub-plot or a completely uninspired ending will inevitably color the readers' appreciation of your work and risk ruining what you've painstakingly built before.

docholladay

I think the end of a story is very similar to the beginning of the story. Both events are during a change in status or a special event. Take for example the Wagons Ho universe of Lazlong. The first story for all intents and purposes ends on arrival in Oregon. Second story picks up at that point.

A change can be as basic as graduating from High School or a marriage. Any change is a natural break point for a story. Of course those natural breaks also become a natural beginning for a sequel if needed.

One of the meanest traps for a writer in my opinion is the ease of adding to a previously ended story online. The online medium is the only one with that trap. I have no idea of how many writers have fallen into that trap. Its caused when new ideas or material come up, but instead of opening a new story the ended story is reopened and added to. Creating a potential for a major incomplete highlight if something goes wrong for the story teller.

Replies:   tppm
Crumbly Writer

@HarryCarton

I wrote a story, recently, that fits your description. I killed it for completely different reasons (pacing and consistency issues), but the ending was that abrupt, though I properly foreshadowed the event and it fits in with the plot (i.e. the 'new' aliens were delayed in coming to clean up their own mess), and it/they fit into the conclusion to the story (overall conflict resolution).

Replies:   HarryCarton
HarryCarton

@Crumbly Writer

I wasn't talking about you, Crumbly, honest...
It was a commercially 'successful' series of novels and about 10 yrs old.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@HarryCarton

Don't worry, Harry. I didn't think you were talking about me. As I said, I dropped the story, so no one has seen it. I was just pointing out that sometimes there's a point to last-minute miracle cures (or at least I hope so, otherwise the story failed on more than a couple issues).

Ernest Bywater

@justanybody

The worst cases are those where the actual story ends well before the author finished writing and there are thousands of words that add nothing to the story before they close it off.

Crumbly Writer

You can usually spot those, and they have the main character chasing women after women as the other casts about for reasons to continue. Once you see the pointless thread drift, you know the author is skating on thin ice, so it's not such a stretch to seeing him eventually drop the entire story.

However, that doesn't make you any less upset when he abruptly ends it.

Replies:   docholladay
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@HarryCarton


But then *whammo* A hitherto unheard of race of new aliens shows up and in the blink of a laser beam (or two) wipes out the bad guy aliens. End of book and end of series


Didn't that happen in War of the Worlds? Earth was losing and then, whammo, rain killed them off.

Replies:   tppm
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

That is why a writer needs both points a beginning and an ending. Some like you CW or Ernest take a different path and have the story completed before you post the first chapter. While others are the post as they write types. For those I suggest if nothing else to possibly pick one of the natural break points. There are many possible break points and the funny part is all beginnings are also an ending at the same time. Its the point of change. Then if need be just write a sequel or something if more material becomes available, reducing the odds of that hated incomplete flag.

richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

Somebody else suggested outlines. Not me. I think it was Kipling who (talking about tribal lays) wrote what I think about how to write "and every single one is best." Maybe I should remove the quotes, as its been a long time since I read the poem. Whatever works for you is best.

Experiment. Different stories may need different approaches. So far I only write reviews and that is pretty structured, the ending is the rating and or a comment enjoining the review reader to read the story just reviewed and possibly a reason why. Some reviews are a little longer than others, depending on how long or complex the reviewed story is. You guys have it a lot harder, especially writing believable sex scenes.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  Zine
Pars001

@justanybody

I have also written a few stories that had need of a second part. to me you only continue a story IF there is a story there to continue, If there is more that YOU as the author want to tell. Hope this has helped

tppm

@docholladay

One of the meanest traps for a writer in my opinion is the ease of adding to a previously ended story online. The online medium is [not] the only one with that trap.


I think you left a "not" out, see where I've inserted it. There are magazine serials (a standard way of publishing from the 18th through the late 20th centuries), there are stories told orally which are constantly added to and modified (see folk process), there are epic ballads, and various "National" epics, some of which are tens of volumes long, etc.

tppm

@Switch Blayde

Didn't that happen in War of the Worlds? Earth was losing and then, whammo, rain killed them off.


Bacteria, not rain. Think American Indian and smallpox, except that in the case of the invading Martians it was 100% fatal.

El_Sol

Most people use 'conflict', but I use equilibrium.

A story starts in a state of equilibrium.
Something disrupts the equilibrium.
The story progresses as a search for equilibrium.
The story ends when equilibrium is achieved.

The problems with sequels is that sometimes the story arc was not conceived as a larger disturbance of equilibrium and the the first book established am equilibrium that the second book never disturbs.

I like stories where the first story's final equilibrium is a disturbance of a larger one and the second story deals with it.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@El_Sol

Something disrupts the equilibrium.

Inciting incident of conflict.

The story ends when equilibrium is achieved.

Conflict resolution.

Same thing; different words.

jeffken
Updated:

This is what I really feel when I read Wheel of times series which is such a drag.

The first and second are okay, but it started to go down hill from there. The later books make me skip pages just to read Rand and Mat. I think this is what reader feel when author write book longer than it should.

Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

You guys have it a lot harder, especially writing believable sex scenes.

Sex scenes are interesting. In an indefinitely continuing story, the sex scene has to repeat indefinitely, but in new and intriguing ways. In books, they continue the plot, and then fall by the wayside. They also depend on the mood of the reader at the time. If you're posting a chapter a week, and the readers expect hot sex, they won't read it unless they're in the mood. But for books, readers are often just Not in the mood when they reach the sex scene. That's why book long teases work so well, because the reader's been anticipating the concluding romance so much. However, you also get readers who'll skip over whole chapters because they 'weren't in the mood' (and who then write to complain about the story not making sense).

In response, authors try different responses:
1) Make the sex scene as brief as possible, with NO plot advancement at all
2) Put more emphasis on the sex scenes, making it 'required reading', or
3) Dropping them entirely from the story!

The long and short of it, though, is that readers are seldom universally happy with sex scenes (at least in longer stories). The same 'sexy chapter' that gets rave reviews will get someone else talking trash about it.

Replies:   prosaa
prosaa

Most likely the best way to end a story naturally would be to kill the main characters off of old age. I read a story recently where the last 3 chapters advanced the main character's life by a few decades at a time, so by the last chapter he was well into his 80's and passed. Thus ending his story.

Ernest Bywater

@prosaa

depending on the needs of the story that will work (I've done that a couple of times), but in some stories it won't and you're better off to cut the story and a neat cut point. That also leaves you space for a sequel if you want to later.

Replies:   prosaa
prosaa

@Ernest Bywater

Definitely. Although you can always start a sequel having the main character be a descendant from the main character in the book before.

prosaa

@Crumbly Writer

"But for books, readers are often just Not in the mood when they reach the sex scene."

This is why I search only for stories tagged as "Some sex" or below. I found that I'm just not interested in stories containing large amounts of sex. I suggest anyone else that has this issue to do the same.

Sure it cuts out a large amount of content but it's content that you would be skipping over or dropping midway anyways.

Crumbly Writer

@prosaa

Most likely the best way to end a story naturally would be to kill the main characters off of old age. I read a story recently where the last 3 chapters advanced the main character's life by a few decades at a time, so by the last chapter he was well into his 80's and passed. Thus ending his story.

Don't laugh, but that's actually my preferred way of ending stories. Since I deal with 'big issue' stories, I tend to eliminate the MC in the story conclusion. In one story, I killed off everyone. In one series, I killed off the main character, in another he went off to another planet and wouldn't return for another 50 to 100 years, and in another, the lead character changes jobs, changing their story genre.

When I reach a stopping point, I like the entire series to be finished.

Replies:   prosaa
prosaa

@Crumbly Writer

I've actually read a few of your stories awhile back, cool stuff. The story I was talking about was something like "Demon Horn"; of course I can't find it at the moment.

Replies:   Argon
garymrssn

Pardon me if this is more philosophical than technical.

There is an essential character in every story whose purpose is that of an observer. This character is the reader. The reader is an invited guest of all the other characters. Like any guest though, there comes a time when the reader needs to go back to his or her own life and let the other characters get on with what ever happens after the words stop. Ending a story is like telling your guest, the reader, in a polite way, it's time for you to go home.
To do this the author needs to bring the story to a point where we can participate in one of the myriad rituals of leaving.
For example:
He closed the door and turned out the light.
They shook hands and walked away.
The pain faded with the light and then there was nothing.
They drank to his memory.
Tomorrow is going to be tough. We better get some rest.
Etc.
Pick one that fits your story and guide your characters along with your guest toward it.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@garymrssn

Pick one that fits your story and guide your characters along with your guest toward it.

Or simply: "Git the 'ell out of me story, ye ol' Sod! It's time to go home!!!"

Zine
Updated:

@richardshagrin

"Here's my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose

And the reindeer roamed where Paris roars to-night:--

'There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,

'And-every-single-one-of-them-is-right!'"

In the Neolithic Age, by Rudyard Kipling.

Argon

@prosaa

It is one of Stultus's stories, A Daemon Horn Blade, and as usual for him, imaginative and original.

PervOtaku

For a story that's designed to be a long-runner, crafting an ending can be the most difficult thing in the world. Not just novels, I include all fiction told in an episodic manner, like comics and television. A friend of mine frequently observes that a lot of his favorite anime shows are fantastic right up until the blah ending.

Personally I'm focused on shorter tales, where I can decide on the ending before I start writing at all. For a lot of my stories, the ending comes in mainly at the point where all my other ideas for the story have been exhausted.

I'm familiar with the experience of readers begging for a sequel. Instead I try to satisfy them with my other new stories. The story in question has a very final ending, by design due to plot reasons, and a sequel would be very difficult. Not that I haven't thought about it, but the main concepts that could conceivably be used for a sequel haven't gone anywhere for me, I have set-ups with no rest of the story. Rather than force it I'm just leaving it be.

In contrast, I came up with sequel ideas for two other stories before I'd even written them. Still another story I rather would like to write those characters again, but the idea I have for a sequel is fairly weak and I'm not going to do it until or unless I can figure out a way to beef it up a little.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@PervOtaku

I'm familiar with the experience of readers begging for a sequel. Instead I try to satisfy them with my other new stories. The story in question has a very final ending, by design due to plot reasons, and a sequel would be very difficult. Not that I haven't thought about it, but the main concepts that could conceivably be used for a sequel haven't gone anywhere for me, I have set-ups with no rest of the story. Rather than force it I'm just leaving it be.

When I started, I had a 2 series serial planned out ahead of time. I had the various plot markers planned out, but few particulars. My main storytelling technique was to think up interesting characters and toss them in front of my main character, then recording what he did. However, that 2 book (one largely written and one unwritten) went to 3, then 4 and finally 6. I always had the ending in mind, and kept revising the epilogue as a guide, but I didn't have the specifics of the ending (how the MC died) until the final book. I knew he was going to die, I just didn't know how.

However, I've always aim for the ending. Part of that, is that the story ends with little change for a continuation (i.e. the MC either dies, disappears or changes careers). I just tried a continuation featuring new characters, and it didn't work as well as I'd hoped. :(

I guess it comes down to 'enclosed' or 'open' stories. Those who write 'enclosed' stories know how the story will end, and write to that ending. Those who write open stories write to continue the tale, and never know how it'll end until the write "The End".

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