Updated: Aug 10, 2020
The ending of any type of entertainment media is the most important part. Get it right and audiences will be praising you and your work for ages to come. Get it wrong and you’ll frustrate your audience and sour their opinion on your work instantly.
The endings on this list probably didn’t frustrate people when they were first used but they sure do now.
5. The fairy tale happy ending
The fairy tale ending is the morally simplest and easiest ending to a story you can have. The hero defeats the villain, normally with minimal bloodshed, rescues their love interest, and rides off into the sunset, leaving their problems behind them and living the rest of their lives in bliss.
The simplicity and ease of this ending leads to the frustration. It’s such an easy way for a writer to wrap up their story with this ‘happily ever after’ ending in a nice neat bow. Because of this, this ending has been used by pretty much everyone and their dog, and in the process, has become a cliché.
Even though it’s a cliché it’s still commonly used and it’s frustrating because it always feels like there is a far more interesting ending that could have been used but was forsaken for the easy option.
4. The never-ending story
However frustrating the previous type of ending is, at least the writer had the good sense to end the story. The story that never ends is just that. Every time you feel like you’ve finally reached the end of the story another 25 pages emerge out of nowhere to drag the story on.
The fact that the story keeps going after what feels like a natural ending point always makes me feel like the writer either had too many ideas going through their head and couldn’t bring themselves to cut out some of the ideas or doesn’t feel confident in the ending for the story and wanted to put it off for as long as possible.
The unfortunate truth is that I’ve read stories that I’ve enjoyed, for the most part, only to fall off when they reach what feels like a natural ending place, only to continue for ages and end on a weaker ending in my opinion.
3. Epilogue, Epilogue, Epilogue
This type of ending is similar to the never-ending story type of ending but with one crucial difference.
There’s already been an ending to the book.
The book ended 50 pages ago but we’re still following the main characters one by one as we learn in excruciating detail what happened to them for the next 25 years of their life after the events of the main plot end.
This overuse of epilogues really sours my opinion of a story and always makes me feel like the author wanted to keep writing but couldn’t figure out what to fill that space with so just jumped ahead ten years and called it an epilogue. I have nothing against epilogues themselves but sometimes stories just don’t need them.
2. Everyone’s dead
Death is a natural part of life. It’s inevitable and it all comes for everyone in the end. With stories aiming to evoke the same emotions and events that people experience in real life, it’s no surprise that not every story is happily ever after. Because of this, we get stories that have death in them and sometimes even end with a death to really hit home with a powerful final emotional response from their audience.
I personally enjoy endings that aren’t all cupcakes and rainbows. Hell, one of my favourite video game stories of all time is Spec Ops: The Line and it’s one of the most depressing video game stories I have ever experienced (there’s a great plot twist as well check out my blog about it here).
But as always, moderation is the order of the day. If there’s been no death throughout the whole story and then suddenly characters start dropping left and right it loses whatever emotional impact those deaths may have had and turn it into a farce.
It’s frustrating in the way it’s done and it makes me feel like the author just wanted a shocking ending by having everyone die but in doing so makes it feel unearned and cheap.
1. It was all a dream
There has never been a more anticlimactic ending that the classic “It was all a dream”, the writers’ shorthand for ‘Hey viewer, we just wasted your fucking time’. So many stories I’ve read have this ending and it is never not unsatisfying.
This ending always leaves the audience with the feeling that nothing mattered about the work and that the writer didn’t have the conviction or confidence in their work and decided instead to pull out the cheap “It was all a dream” ending.
It’s not a clever twist. It’s not interesting or novel.
If you use this ending, the only thing you’ll do is leave your audience with a bitter taste in their mouth from you wasting their time.
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