And they all lived happily ever after.
Please tell me I'm not the only one who feels an overwhelming urge to impale themself on a stick when I read those lines? As if the fact that the line itself is so horribly cliché - so much that, nowadays, only Disney can get away with it without being ripped to shreds - the worst part is that it commits the one mistake that really gets my goat when it comes to endings.
No matter of the events, the target age or the genre of your story, it is impossible.
Even if it is only because some unfortunate pixie got stood on by the heroine's clumsy-but-well-meaning fluffy pink unicorn while she was riding through the Meadows of Joy searching for the queen's lost Sparkly Tiara of Rainbows, a truly all-encompassing "happily ever after" is truly an unaccomplishable feat. Not in the least because there's usually some form of baddie who requires squishing along the way.
Besides, there's an even worse reason why this ending deserves to slip in the shower, bash its teeth on the handrail and have to spend the next ten hours having bits of plastic and pointy metal stuck in its mouth to fix it.
It's B.O.R.I.N.G. In capitals.
The ending of a book is absolutely crucial, to both author and reader. It's the last the reader sees of the world, their last chance to know what becomes of the beloved (or utterly despised) characters they have met and accompanied. You've got to make it memorable - especially if you're planning to bring the readers back to your work again, irregardless of a sequel!
Now then, please squash your wriggling Disneyfied endings under the sofa as we utilise the delights of the culinary world to browse through the qualities and possibilities of an ending that will have your readers screaming for more ... and, in some cases, for your head on a stick.
1 - In Which the Ending is Like a Chocolate Cake.
Speaking from personal experience, I feel there are few things in the world that can be declared more satisfying than finishing off a delicious piece of mouth-watering chocolate cake. You lounge back in your chair, nursing a happily gurgling tummy and licking the last scraps of deliciousness from your mouth. True, you nearly choked on that Smartie a couple of minutes ago, and the jammy icing took a little getting used to, but, all in all, you are a happy bunny.
The Chocolate Cake Ending is popular, and rightly so. While bad things may have happened in the book, and everything may not have worked out spectacularly for everyone involved, the end result for the reader is a warm, happy feeling that everything is as it should be. The prince is back on the throne, the mystery's solved, the killer's back in jail and the poor neglected rape victim is curled up on the sofa with her cat and loving new boyfriend.
The reader likes this ending because it's a message of hope, and because the characters they love have an ending that the reader thinks they deserve. Avoid overmuch sugar, though. The dreaded "Happily Ever After" bacteria have been known to infect cake with more than a healthy tablespoon of serendipity.
2 - In Which the Ending is Like an Over-Spicy Curry
Asfdfgjjkg!!! What on earth just happened? What was that? Where's it gone? Why is there a purple iguana eating my petunias?
Curry is deadly stuff. While its tingly, tangy spice is enticing and delicious and wonderful, the after effects of sudden dizziness, loss of direction and the urge to drink half of the Pacific Ocean to sate the burning in your throat are dangers you sometimes might not be willing to brave.
The Spicy Curry Ending is brilliant in the right hands. Cliffhangers, mind-bending twists in the plot, eye-popping revelations at the last moment - chuck it all in and stir in the hot sauce! Readers love to be surprised and entertained, and there's nowhere better to distress them in this manner than at the moment when they thought it was safe to get back in the water. Though you may give the reader a small heart attack, they will remember this ending and, hopefully, that strange sense in humans that being put through masses of pleasurable pain is a brilliant idea will tell them to run off and buy another of your books this moment! This is an excellent strategy particularly if you want to lure them into sequels.
Warning: application of hot sauce is not adviseable if your book is more honeyed pancake than school dinner rice. Being astonishingly clever and being absurdly contrived are worryingly close together, and the line has been somewhat rubbed by all those people running to the kitchen for an aspirin. Use with caution.
3- In Which the Ending is Like a Raisin-Filled Cookie
There is no greater treachery in the world than that of the crazed sadist who decided it would be fun to put raisins in cookies. There you are, expecting your delicious mouthful of chocolate-and-dough based goodness, your mouth waters, your eyes mist at the prospect, you sink your teeth in, waiting, waiting for the moment ... and you weep at your betrayal.
Raisin Cookie Endings are the reason why I have trust issues. The reader clings on tenaciously through the story; screaming at the characters, willing them on, cursing the cruel twists of fate, whooping ecstatically at each small victory. And then, just when you being to hope it will all be okay ... your hopes are crushed like an imploding Super Nova.
There is no better way to make a reader cry than with a Raisin Cookie Ending. Breaking the hearts of readers is no easy feat, no matter how easily they cry, with a book. You've got to draw them in, link them with back-straining detail to the world, make them care, make them get involved ... and then you have to find a way of destroying them so utterly that they won't have the strength to strangle you. It's hard work, and it can all go horribly wrong if done incorrectly (am I the only one who laughs hysterically when someone/thing I don't care about dies painfully?), but when you get it right ...
My inner villain loves this ending. My outer one adores it.
4 - In Which the Ending is Like Your Granny's Cooking
You honestly didn't believe it was food, at first. You poked it, you sniffed it, you shunted it around the plate a bit. You wondered if dotty old Granny B had got your dinner mixed up with that of her twenty-six ginger toms. You certainly didn't think it was edible.
But, to your (and the cats') astonishment ... it was. You'd never believe it if you went back in time and told yourself ten minutes previously that you would enjoy it, but you honestly did. "Don't judge a book by its cover" takes on a whole new meaning. You may not like it to start with, but after a few mouthfuls and some careful consideration - which probably doesn't involve wondering what the ingredients are, for your sanity's sake - you've decided you like it.
Granny's Cooking Endings are weird. From the outset they seem mediocre, or maybe even a bit off. Why on earth did the world-saving detective refuse to take her pay and go and live in a remote African village immunising babies against malaria? Especially as she's terrified of plane flights. But, upon more careful consideration, you see that she has made this decision because, after that last mission, she's decided that she was detecting for all the wrong reasons and would much rather spend her time doing what she believed she was trying to do - helping people. True, she leaves her fiancee, her family, her job, everything she's loved, but it's what she needs to do. And, in the end, you're happy for her.
Don't add too much theological or moral lesson-up-nose-shoving in here, though. You want to make a point, not choke someone with it.
5 - In Which the Ending Tastes of Custard
That's right, it tastes of custard. You don't know why it tastes of custard, you see no reason for it to taste of custard, and nor does anyone else. You don't even like custard.
But, whatever the reason, it's absolutely hysterical. You don't know what you're laughing at, or even why you're laughing in particular, but the Custard Ending will have you out of breath, clapping like a drugged-up seal at a Queen concert while your diaphram explodes into a thousand tiny pieces in your chest. And you'll be laughing so hard you won't feel the operation to clean up the aftermath either.
There are mulitple ingredients you can add to your ending to trigger a Custard Reponse. A deliciously ironic statement, a wriggle-inducing come-uppance, a bizarrely serendipitious happening, or (my favourite) a clincher to a book-long running joke. Terry Pratchett is the Charley-proclaimed Master of Custard Endings, though Douglas Adams, Alexandre Dumas and Jasper Fforde aren't far behind! Look them up if you want any tips on your Custard Recipe.
As a warning, this ending isn't to everyone's taste. Auntie Beryl was never one for custard, you know, and your story may wear it like a purple and orange tea cosy on its head unless the Ending has a jolly good reason to be there.
Also, watch out for custard allergies. Those can get awkward too.
Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments what you think of my endings, dear readers, and feel free to add recipies of your own to the mix! The fatter the cookbook the better, after all!
Addition of alcohol to aforementioned dishes is done at the cook's discretion ;)
- Charley R