Not to long long ago, I read an article about the importance of constructing a good ending for a novel. On the surface, the concept seemed simple. After all, if you have a great plot you’ll have a great ending. Right? Wrong. And as I thought about it, I recalled a host of narratives from a variety of mediums; some ended well and others didn’t. Here are a few of them.
The Pledge (Good)
Written by Kimberly Derting, this is a novel whose ending was done right. The conflict is firmly concluded, all characters and their motivations are accounted for, and the only threads are simply to direct you to the next book in the series, hinting at what is coming next.
Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil (Bad)
An anti-hero is always loved, even if they don’t get as much spotlight as their traditional counterparts. I love the Darth Bane trilogy. Not only is Bane a wickedly cool character who has his own rags to power narrative, but he’s an incredibly intelligent individual who founds The Rule of Two, the concept that leads to Palpatine and Order 66 thousands of years later. But as good as the trilogy was, it ended on a confusing note.
In the final battle between Bane and his apprentice Zannah to determine who will be the reigning Sith Lord, Bane attempts to possesses her body. It’s written with such skill that I was on the edge of my seat and–when the chapter ended with the winner unknown–I hastily turned to the final chapter to see who the victor was. Unfortunately, it was unclear. While Zannah says that it’s her, the POV makes note of a tremor in her hand, a tremor that only Bane had exhibited. So, who was who? The book never said.
I later read a posting from the author online stating that it was indeed Zannah and that she’d inherited the tremor from Bane. While I was happy for the clarification, it also irritated me. I shouldn’t have had to read the explanation online. It should’ve been in the book. Giving Zannah the tremor was unnecessary and detracted from what would’ve otherwise have been a perfect ending.
Dishonored contained one of the best narratives in a video game that I’ve seen in years, primarily because of how little there was. Much like The Pledge, Dishonored described just enough to imply without expressly stating things. Another similarity is the ending(s). Regardless of which you end up with, what happens to your protagonist is never left in doubt, nor what happens to the kingdom under its new Empress, leaving you with a strong sense of satisfaction.
Mass Effect 3 (Bad)
The Mass Effect Trilogy was known for player driven narrative where the choices that you made had a cumulative effect that added to the tension of an already exceptional plot. Unfortunately, the ending of Mass Effect 3–the original ending–fell flat for two reasons. The first was the three possible endings, each of which were essentially identical; defeat the Reapers, save the galaxy, and the main protagonist dies. For a trilogy that made its name on your choices having an impact–in addition to a plot line full of twists and turns–this ending felt like a gasp of air.
The second reason was a series of unexplained gaps that would never have made it past a book editor. In one of the last segments of the game your team is caught in an explosion. The protagonist wakes up–gravely injured–and staggers towards the goal point. But what of your teammates? They never say. At the end of the game is a secret cut scene in which your ship has crashed onto an unknown planet–without an explanation for why it was fleeing Earth–and your various allies walk out, including the ones who were with the Protagonist in the aforementioned explosion. There’s no sequence of events to explain their survival, how they got back to the ship, or why the ship had fled. It’s a giant blank that does nothing save to hammer home a lackluster ending.
The Legend of The Shadowless Sword (Good)
Shadowless Sword is one of the best tragic hero stories I’ve seen since Anakin Skywalker’s character arc. The main protagonist–broken by tragic events and living in exile–is rescued from assassins by a heroine who’s to bring him back to his homeland to be the king the country needs. The protagonist slowly begins to change, and in the end becomes that very person, only to lose the one who helped him get there.
This is shown in the final scene when the protagonist gives a monologue just before they engage in a battle to retake the capital. This gives way to a brief hysterical account–as the movie is based on actual events–that summarizes the ending nicely, wrapping up the entire plot.
The House of Flying Daggers (Bad)
Flying Daggers has many similarities to Shadowless Sword, but does them all wrong. A tepid plot line quickly grows cold and uninteresting. Not only does the main female protagonist die–for no discernible reason–but the movie ends as soldiers of the corrupt empire sneak up to the HQ of the House of Flying Daggers. A battle is obviously imminent, but we never get to see it, nor the outcome. The movie simply ends, leaving you with a dissatisfactory ending that is identical to the movies poorly rendered plot.
Good endings aren’t the sole province of books, but regardless of their medium, they must contain three things; resolution, satisfaction, and finality.