A Question of Endings

My friend and me at Boomtown Coffee in Houston, writing in tandem. July 6, 2013.

I finished my novel draft. It may never see the light of day. Terrible doesn’t accurately describe it. But I finished.

Now it sits. Percolates. I’ll return to it early next year to see whether I can shape it into something worthwhile. Meantime, I need to outline my next long work.

Got to keep writing, right?

I’ve spent considerable time considering themes and characters and plots. And I’ve hit something that fires my interest and passion. I’ve sketched character profiles and arcs.

Where I hit a roadblock: Trajectories. Endings.

What should happen? Should main characters get satisfaction? Or should the book fit what the author seeks to say—even if the outcome doesn’t make the protagonists happy?

I asked a writer friend for her perspective. She said she likes plot lines wherein the main character thinks she wants one thing and, in the journey to acquire it, discovers she wants something else entirely. And then gets it.

I won’t lie: The kind of ending my friend prefers doesn’t fit the story I want to tell. Would my outlined trajectory disappoint readers? Should I rethink my plan entirely?

What kind of endings do I like?

I went back to my list of favorite books so far. In thinking about their plots, I discovered I like endings that make me think. That challenge me. That teach me something. That give me a perspective and encourage me to craft a response—even if it’s one that doesn’t agree with the author.

Yet I may be a rarity in this preference. As we’ve discussed, people shy away from debate nowadays. Literary novels sell less than mainstream books. (We call it “popular fiction” for a reason.) And movies often end in the manner my writing buddy prefers.

So I ask: What types of endings do you prefer?