Wednesday, October 21, 2009


They are two of the most welcome words to type (or write) for any writer: "The End". You've done it. It's finished. Cue the champagne. But, how have you done it? Is every end neatly tied into a bow or are there a couple loose threads? Evil has been vanquished, but is it coming back? Different genres call for different endings.

The Big Bow (with really nice ribbon)

These endings are the traditional "happily ever after". Every problem has been resolved, all misunderstanding are cleared up. Our hero has triumphed, our villain is in chains, our happy couple eagerly moving on into their brilliant and love-filled future. Cue the orchestra.

The Small Bow (with thin ribbon)

These endings are interesting. Right has prevailed over wrong (of course) but something nasty is still lurking out there. Not every plot has been resolved leading the reader to wonder what's going to happen next. An example of this type of ending can be found in "Silence of the Lambs"; the serial killer is apprehended and our heroine is safe, but guess who's still out there? All the Harry Potter books (except for the last one, of course) also end with a Small Bow.

No Bow (and no ribbon)

These types of endings seem to be typical in the second book of trilogies. Huge plot lines are left unresolved and the main characters are wondering how they will ever complete their journey. Personally, I find these ending highly annoying unless I can immediately start reading the third and final book.

In my writing I swing between option number one and option number two, depending on the material. When I'm writing to provide pure entertainment, I opt for the Big Bow. However, more complex characters seem to demand a more complex ending. After all, not every question is answered in real life. I am predicting my current WIP will end with a Small Bow.

What type of ending do you prefer as a writer? Is it the same type of ending you prefer as a reader?


  1. I wanted Faking It to have an ending that would leave the reader wanting more, and wondering what the second book could be like; but I also wanted it to be a satisfactory ending in and of itself without making the reader feel disappointed. I think I succeeded.

    With Ordinary World, I wanted to make sure all loose ends were tied (little ribbon?), but I also didn't want to go out with a bang (big bow?). I really like the ending.

    It took us forever to come up with the ending for our manuscript, but we had a eureka moment when we finally got it. Again, I think it's more subtle than the big bow and ribbon.


  2. I like big bows. I've read quite a few books that are part of a series - they have their own big bow, with more to come...a bow in a different color?

  3. You ask such interesting questions, Elspeth! I like my endings to have small bows. I like the "loose ends" tied up, so the reader has closure. I think readers want to know whodunit, whydunit and howdunit. I also like to include something about what happens to the major characters as a result of the mystery. But, since my Joel Williams stories are a series, I don't want each one to end with a big bow. I want the reader to have the sense that Joel will be back. He will.

  4. Elisa; I think you ending for "Faking It" was very nicely balanced. There was a happy ending, but it was realistic too.

    Crystal; I like the idea of bows of different colours; wish I'd thought of it while I was writing this post!

    Margot; I agree readers want answers to whodunnit, whydunnit and how. A mystery that doesn't supply these needed ingredients isn't really playing by the rules, in my opinion. It's interesting that you include what happens as a result. That's true closure.

  5. Since I enjoy reading and writing series books, I do like to have something to have the reader want to come back for more, so a small bow. Kathy Reichs comes to mind: her mystery is solved, but there's something unresolved, whether it's in her love life or elsewhere.

    But, if I'm reading (or writing) a stand-alone, I like the big bow approach, though I like the feeling of wanting more. I think Sandra Brown is excellent ant this.

    No bow only works for me in 'The Empire Strikes Back'.

  6. I like very, very, very frayed bows. I like the main conflict to be tied up in the center knot, but questions of emotion and lingering conflict to be left hanging. Life isn't perfect and I don't want my heroes and heroines to be perfect either. Neither do I want to read a second or third book in a series if there's nothing compelling me toward it from the prior book.

    Frayed bows. That's my ending. And I think I'd like to write how I read.


  7. Liberty; Small bows are a nice compromise. "The Empire Strikes Back"'s ending drove me nuts. Everything was left hanging.

    Michele; What a lovely way of putting it! I completely agree.

  8. Like you, I wobble between large and small bows, both in reading and in writing. In reading it depends on my mood which I prefer. In writing, it depends on story.

  9. When I was young, I certainly prefered the big bow. Today I may enjoy the small bow very much, provided that I know who the perpetrator is. Unusual endings can be really refreshing, and there are other ways to satisfy your reader than putting the murderer in prison for life.

  10. As a writer, I like to wrap things up with a small bow and a kick in the pants.

    As a reader, I'll take any ending that "fits." Big bow, small bow, frayed bow. Even a kick in the pants. But not a deux et machina. Never one of those.

  11. I like endings that don’t cheat or feel rushed. Sometimes, it’s like the author looked up and said, “Yikes, I hit my word count. Gotta end this in the next chapter.” Sometimes, a character who had no role in the previous 500 pages steps forward and does something to affect the MC and ending…that’s cheating. So, those are a couple of my personal annoyances.

    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  12. Carol; I agree, it depends on the story. Maybe we need a big bow made with thin ribbon.

    Dorte; You bring up a good point, I think our preferences change over time. I agree, you don't have to always lock up your villain.

    Alan; Deux ex machina is cheating. It's not fair to the poor reader.

    Galen; I've read books like that! It is annoying. The character who appears out of no where holding the final piece of the puzzle should be outlawed, in my opinion. Cheat! Cheat!

  13. I rather like things tied up in the end, but knowing that the protagonist can go on into another adventure.

    Straight From Hel

  14. I like to write and read the small bow endings. I don't like reading happily ever afters. I think the SB endings are more interesting and true to life.

  15. I like the small bow endings, leaving a bit of a question lingering with the reader, so the story stays with them, simmering, as we consider possible outcomes. It seems more engaging between author and reader this way.

  16. Helen; Nicely tied up endings are satisfying to read, it's true.

    Journaling Woman; I completely agree. Well put.

    Joanne; You've made a very good point. Thanks for dropping by!

  17. I need, need, need HEA (happy ever after) endings in my books. Enormous, shiny, red bow with sparkles!

    As a teacher who sees so many sad stories in the real world, I love my happy endings :)

  18. As a reader I prefer the small bows. The unresolved conflicts that make you wait for the next book (Harry Potter), or let you construct your own endings (Gone with the Wind). The big bows are rather boring, I think.

  19. "Some books end, others move on." Forget who said this, one of my favorite dead authors. I vote for little bows, or big bows poorly tied.

  20. Jemi; If sparkles make you happy, then you should write sparkles.

    Rayna; I enjoy unresolved conflicts as long as some of them have been tied up. Everything left dangling drives me made.

    Derek; That's a nice quote. Thanks for dropping by!

  21. Very nice analogy!

    Big bows are my favorites to read and to write. I want all the little subplots tied up neatly, too.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  22. I write primarily in the spiritual/inspirational genre, but I love to read books in ALL genres. Well, maybe not tween lit, lol, and the gory murder stuff is a bit over the top for me, but to me, good writing is good writing in any genre.

    Marvin D Wilson

  23. Elizabeth; Thanks! There is something satisfying about a neatly tied bow. I would think cozies would demand it.

    Marvin; It's true; good writing is good writing.


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