Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gotta Stick The Ending

So, remember my last writing post from a week ago?

I talked about looking for good stories in any medium and learning from them. My specific example was the Mass Effect video game series from BioWare. For entertainment and thought-provoking story, I have never seen a video game like Mass Effect 3.

And then I finished the game.


*crickets chirped*

Almost literally, it seemed like that happened. I didn't get it. I didn't see that coming. The ending of the game, and of a five year, three game-spanning story, didn't make sense. I sat in my living room, thinking "Huh?"

There is a lot of talk on game websites about this, and don't even try to find a impartial opinion on the BioWare forums. I've seen long analyses trying to prove some theory or another from passionate gamers. Some say there is a point to the ending and it is so genius only the truly enlightened get it (kidding).

Well, this isn't a game post. It is a writing post. What is the writing lesson to take from this?

Remeber this? If not, I'm getting old.
You've got to stick the ending.

Your writing can be brilliant. The prose can sparkle and move a reader to tears. The characters seem like living people you want to go get a beer with afterwards. The plot can shock and amaze with the suspense and tension. It can be the new Great American Novel...

As long as you nail the finish.

My disclaimer: I haven't finished my novel yet. I have not proven that I can stick it. But I know not sticking it when I see it.

  • a deus ex machina that comes from nowhere
  • new ideas that were never foreshadowed, or only fainly done
  • a new character at the last minute who is very important
  • contradicting established character traits or identities
  • convenient glowing God-child telling the protagonist to do something wacky (this last one is a little more specific to ME3)
Writing a novel is hard. It takes skill and dedication to see an imagined world through to the end. Let it end well. Make sure you don't lose focus.

The Matrix was remarkable when it came out back in 1999. Then came The Matrix Reloaded and everybody did a double-take. It sullied the first movie. Same with the Pirates Of The Caribbean  movies - the first one is widely loved, the second one was a little iffy, and the third was "what was the writer and director smoking?"

The Mass Effect story from 1 through 3 should take an average gamer 120 hours to finish (I know, sad). For 119.75 hours it was awesome. The last 15 minutes was like a plane crashing on the tarmac after a long, successful journey.

My take-home lesson: look very carefully at how I'm ending. If I'm taking the reader for a ride, I want them to get to their destination. I'm not saying the ending has to be happy or can't be tragic, but it can't feel like the tail of the plane ripped off, sucking the poor reader out into the atmosphere.

What about you? Have you read a book or seen a movie that was great all the way until the ending? Share your examples so we can all learn from them!

1 comment:

  1. When I saw "The Talented Mister Ripley" with Matt Damon and Jude Law, I was very dissatisfied as the movie approached the ending. I thought to myself, "they can't possibly end it this way!!" Literally in the last 30 seconds, they provided a highly satisfying (to me) ending to the movie. That's not exactly what you were asking about though.

    Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" went off the rails in the third act when [SPOILER ALERT] a serial killer showed up on the space ship. My wife and I looked at each other and said, "Did that really happen?" It ruined what was (up to that point) a great, intelligent sci fi film.