You put your heart into a story, create characters, bring them to life, and your readers tell you your story is great, but… the ending is not satisfying.
Hrumph. Satisfying, smadisfying. Why wasn’t it satisfying? What could I have done differently? After all, stories can have limitless endings. What’s so damned bad about this one? Why doesn’t it work?
I heard the same things so many times, I flinched when I reached the end of a story. What could I say in this story that the reader would find satisfying? How will I know if it is satisfying to readers or not. Do I just throw a story out and take my chances, or is there another way?
Luckily, there is a means for selecting a satisfying ending. It may not always work, but is much better than just throwing an ending in as I had been doing.
Here it is. David Harris Ebenbach, in Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Writing Fiction, Chapter 3, Plot: A Question of Focus, presents a discussion of ‘The Major Dramatic Question.’ If you consider the bottom line question in a story, movie, or book, the book can be reduced to one question about the protagonist. Ebenbach gives several examples. In one example, from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, he asks whether Robert Jordan will escape his apparent fate by surviving his military mission. The story’s ending reveals the answer. If the ending has nothing to do with the Major Dramatic Question, it will be bad.
Therein lies the secret. If your ending answers the Major Dramatic Question your story presents, it will likely be a satisfying, or good one for the reader. If it doesn’t – it won’t.