Did you like the last book you read or movie you saw? Why? Sometimes it can be hard to explain our reaction to a story because so many elements go into it to make it good or bad.
One of those elements is the ending. It should leave you feeling that the story was built right and all the parts fit together.
The beginning of the story sets out the conflict, the middle deepens the conflict, and the ending settles the conflict. The ending is the climax of a story, the exciting part when conflicts are solved and questions are answered.
Not all kinds of endings are satisfactory. If we learn “it was all a dream,” then we have no reason to care about the story. If the story strays too far from the beginning, the ending will have no relationship to the beginning. If there is insufficient conflict, the story never actually reaches an ending, it just stops.
Likewise, if the resolution is too wide, it becomes unbelievable. If the resolution is too predictable or has no tension, it simply fails. If the ending suddenly introduces a new character or changes to rescue the situation, it feels like cheating.
A variety of endings can feel satisfactory. For example, stories can return to the beginning situation or setting, which is now the right place for the character, who has come home.
Satisfying endings can also show that what seemed real at the beginning was false or intolerable, and the ending can deliver a new reality: the character can’t go home again.
Some endings can be more complex. They can resolve the main conflict but leave secondary questions unresolved: an open-ended story. If an ending can resolve all the questions, it’s possible the story didn’t have enough questions. Sometimes endings redefine the questions posed by the story by asking new questions, giving them a new context.
Endings can even resolve nothing clearly and count on the reader to provide the answers from the clues in the story. Sometimes endings can reveal that the central question was false or deceptive: the trick ending.
Overall, a good ending stops at the right time and provides just enough closure. The beginning supports the ending and the ending supports the beginning. And, of course, the conflict is not too easy for the characters to solve, because that would be boring.
The worst thing a story can do is be boring.