I started writing around then and still do (if somewhat sporadically). I drew elaborate maps and plotted out stories and made character profiles, even then trying to whip my world into order by over-plotting. That hasn't changed, but the ways that I end my stories certainly have.
Meet Pip, aged 8: Fantasy enthusiast with an obsession with knights, wizards and dragons.
TYPICAL ENDINGS: "And the knight killed the dragon and the princess escaped from the mad wizard and they found each other and they alllllll lived happily ever after. Except for the poor dragon that is. The End."
At the time, this seemed like an excellent way to end a story with the knight conquering his foe and marrying a princess. Disney loved it so I did too! NEVER AGAIN.
Pip aged 13 or 14 went through a rebellious phase: Keen on horror now and a lover of dystopian futures, all the endings changed. Dramatically.
TYPICAL ENDINGS: "And everybody DIED! Everybody! Even, no ESPECIALLY, the orphan girl begging on the street corner. Stone cold dead. Add a widow weeping over there in the corner. And how about a massacre? Happy endings? They're for the weak and predictable!"
I had read 'Ender's Game' and had been in awe of the boldness of the ending. I had read 'Little Women' and remembered the shock and impact that one little death had had on me and decided to magnify that shock tenfold! No one was safe because I was on a mission to surprise and affect my readers in the same way. NOT THE WAY TO GO.
< BRIEF INTERLUDE FOR UNIVERSITY AND ALL KINDS OF DISTRACTIONS >
At the grand old age of 23ish, there was a SLIGHTLY more mature Pip: A fan of the anti-hero and characters with heroic flaws. The endings became a little more balanced but still a bit glum.
TYPICAL ENDINGS: "And the hero saved the day at great personal cost to himself which he never really recovered from and he then led a lonesome life while the people he had saved lived out their lives happily, except for that ONE character that died and we still miss."
I had read 'Hamlet' at school and fallen for him. And don't even get me started on Heathcliff. My characters mostly lived but were doomed to an isolated and unhappy fate without hope of resolution. NO MORE.
And now at the even grander old age of something that shall not be disclosed, I finally feel happy with my planned endings and I hope my future readers will too. I hope to leave my characters (and therefore readers) SATISFIED.
- I aim to at least have some closure on one part of the character's story and struggle, but to still have plenty more story left to live after the cover is closed, because that's life.
- There should be a cast of varied characters who all have some flaw or other, because who doesn't but we can all work on them.
- No one needs to shoulder the whole burden of saving the world all alone because that just makes them irritating.
- No one is left ultimately happy but no one is left irredeemably broken either, because your reader needs a little sprinkling of hope but it must be hope that they can believe in.
- Some people live and some people die but every character moves at least a little closer to a resolution.
That's all I've learned so far - not particularly epic advice, but it's what I aim for.
I can happily say that I have at least never ended a story with "...and I woke up and it was all a dream!"