How to Handle the End Times?

First title in the Eldar Path trilogy

The start of the meta-story, not the end

One of the most interesting comments that has come back regarding Path of the Warrior is the nature of the ending. Without going into spoiler-tastic details, lets just say that while Korlandril’s personal story is concluded, the meta-story of Craftworld Alaitoc is very much left in the balance. This is a deliberate choice based upon the overall structure of the trilogy – across the three books the whole meta-story will be explained and concluded in the final volume –  but it has made me think about endings in general.

On the whole, I almost never tie up every loose end, and sometimes leave a large amount to still be decided by the reader. I just can’t bring myself to do ‘Hollywood’ endings where everything is neatly wrapped up with a bow and presented as a definitive stopping point.

This probably derives from my experience as a world-builder for the Warhammer and 40K games, where the aim is to present information but also include many possibilities for gamers to further explore themselves. It’s a means by which an author can share their world and in some sense hand over part of the control to readers. I really quite like leaving openings for further discussion – where did Item X come from? What happened to Character Y?

Real life rarely gives us neat finishes. There are always few stray threads left lying around after every event, encounter and relationship, some of which never get resolved or can be resolved. It’s the Sopranos approach I suppose.  That is not to say the narrative or story should not have some kind of definable arc and conclusion. There should be some sense of progress, or at least change, from the start to the finish, even if the nature of those changes are not explored to their ultimate extent.

I have taken several approaches to endings in the past. My Warhammer trilogy Slaves to Darkness concludes with a

Shadow King, Book 2 of The Sundering

series of epilogues that leap forward a few years to show what effects the events had on the characters’ lives. (In)famously, Annihilation Squad‘s end is very definitive for the main character, although many people continue to ask what happened to The Colonel and the rest of the Last Chancers (and there are hints as to what might have befallen Kage later on). As with the Path of the Eldar series, the individual volumes of The Sundering leave the narrative at pivotal moments, to be picked up in the other books – though as the third book Caledor will be a proper conclusion to the series. Angels of Darkness has a similarly blunt end for the characters involved, but in recent discussions with Black Library I’ve talked about ways in which the meta-story could be continued if not the individual narratives.

So, Hamsterites, what sorts of endings do you like to write and read? Are they different from each other? What’s your favourite ending (put spoiler warnings if necessary)?

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 11:38 am  Comments (15)  

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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like endings that are endings. It has to be finished when I turn that last page. I’ve read a number of post-modern books and seen a number of post-modern movies which, instead of ending the story, make the reader feel as if they are leaving a party while it’s still in progress. I don’t like that. It breaks with the basic contour of plot resolution and it just doesn’t feel that great.

    Just because I demand an ending, however, doesn’t mean I need it to hit me in the face with a mallet. The end of Catcher in the Rye was a good ending, even though it didn’t spoon-feed you. The end of the movie Blow Up was very effective, though it left you with more questions than it solved. For me, the end doesn’t have to treat me like an idiot… but I still need one.

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  2. With the book I’ve submitted to BL (only a few weeks to go before all our dreams come true/are shattered on the iron knee of Overlord Dunn) I have very consciously gone for an ending which I like to think of as the “A New Hope” ending. It wraps up almost everything to do with that particular narrative, but at the last minute sets up a brand-new narrative which (hopefully) will hook the reader and make them crave the second book to follow.

    When I think about it, that ending doesn’t have that much in common with A New Hope’s ending; I shall persist in thinking of it as such, however, as the middle book in the trilogy is very much The Empire Strikes Back – lots happens, the plot is advanced, leaving a climatic third book to come.

    Come to think of it, I should just leave Star Wars comparisons alone. I like the way The Sundering books have ended – the climatic, cliff-hanger end (especially for Shadow King) has me hooked on the countdown for Caledor 🙂

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  3. In The Path of the Warrior the main character, Korlandril, is a means to learn more about the “background character”, the Craftworld Alaitoc itself. The Prolgue really helped me have the mind set of the “ending” of this particular book.

    Having said all that it depends on the genre. In movies i like to have happy/sappy endings. In books i like to have the main thread concluded. I don’t mind loose ends, and in cases like this where it is the first part of a trilogy, it is OK to me that it is not all wrapped up because i know there is a book (or two) to follow.

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    • I agree about Korlandril’s journey as a means for us to learn about Alaitoc. Unfortunately, Gav Thorpe made an extremely interesting character in Korlandril, so the way the book approaches the ending had me excited, but also upset. Nonetheless, I see that as a mark of a great writer. I felt a similar way about Angels of Darkness, another magnificent tome.

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  4. Although there can be individual loose ends, too many leaves a sense of the story being unfinished and unsatisfying, as well as sometimes in Hollywood’s case making it seem like a blatant attempt to set up for a sequel (and more $).

    The meta-story should reach a conclusion and not leave the reader in permanent suspense or just before the climax. Ending in a “permanent state of war” or other equivalent ongoing stalemate also at times feels like a copout to avoid having to conclude anything.

    In the Eldar trilogy, the meta-story is depicting a momentous and rare occasion, on par with Iyanden’s struggle. If Iyanden’s story had just been cut short without the struggle against the Tyranids being concluded, people would have been left in limbo because without conclusion of critical events, it is harder for them to build their own stories in any fashion that can be shared with others. Some would have had Iyanden losing and wiped out. Others may have had Iyanden victorious and relatively unscathed. Without some definitive consensus view, it degenerates too much into “I won, you lost. No, I did”, which may be fine for individual interpretations but renders it difficult to have a shared universe.

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  5. People confuse resolution and endings. I don’t think you have to resolve every strand of a narrative, but you do have to end them. If there’s some character whose involvement is never fully explained, but he’s clearly already departed the narrative, then that’s okay, that’s an ending, even if it’s not a resolution as such. If there’s a character whose involvement is never fully explained, and who is left glaringly centre-stage at the end, then it’s not an ending either, and that’s bad. That’s where the telling of the story becomes undermined, and any merit accrued so far is lost to a feeling of dissatisfaction. Same with the book as a whole – you need something that states quite clearly why you are stopping telling the story at this point. It doesn’t have to be wholly resolved, but you absolutely can’t leave the reader expecting a continuation.

    Even just a thorough summing up or conclusive statment of theme is often enough. I tend to forgive pretty much any amount of unresolved loose ends if the book is stamped ‘Finished’ with a suitably powerful closing line. The best endings I’ve ever read – in terms of closing line, which I really do think are the parts that provide the ‘endings’ and makes ‘resolution’ less of a worry – are probably those in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The Solzhenitysn one, in particular, is an achievement in providing an ending to a book that doesn’t really have any kind of resolution (or even much of a plot) at all, and it makes good on the book’s conceit of being the record of a single day, which otherwise might have proven unsuccessfully arbitrary. The last line of The Lord of the Rings works pretty well, considering how many natural endings have already been overlooked by that point.

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  6. I enjoyed Path of the Warrior but I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of the end. I understand that you’re opening it up for the trilogy but after the wonderful character building I thought it was a bit rushed.

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  7. What did people make of the end of “Lost” then ? Personally I was more than happy, I can more or less understand some people wanting 100% cut and dry clear cut explanations and, so to speak, “rules” for things but I do genuinely think at times that ” a wizard did it” is really all that is needed.

    The exception being of course if the whole premise or concept is based upon solving or showing everything, like a Christie mystery/similar.

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  8. I feel that an ending where a task is resolved is well enough, but the character’s existence should be real enough to have the feeling of a continued existence beyond the bounds of the current book and that there will be and have been other tales to tell, which of course can lead to more book sales and more entertainment that is compelling and contains characters that are familiar and compelling.

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  9. Finally finished the book and I really enjoyed it, I am an Eldar fanboy and I thought the book did justice to the depth of the species.

    For me, as the book clarifies that this is a series I found the ending great. I feel very amped for the next book, and also felt that the story of Korlandril was wrapped up enough; although I get the impression that a few of his plot hooks could pop up later in the series.
    Overall I prefer not to know the style of ending for a story until I reach that point, even when writing my own work; even if it is a horrific/bleak ending.

    Whilst I have enjoyed stories that have major questions still to answer I do prefer for a story not to be cut off, and at least a few key points be clarified.

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  10. The last two sentences of Asimov’s Foundation and Earth–the end of the last book in the (arguably, because Dune competes for the title) most famous science fiction series of all time.

    And SUCH a punch to the gut.

    That said, the “dramatic reversal” or other twists have been embraced a bit too much, I think. You know, endings where the scene pans away to reveal that the monster is still out there, or whatever. It has almost ceased to be a surprise when horror stories try to pull this on us…

    I prefer my surprises to come at me from a completely unexpected direction. CIP, Foundation and Earth.

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  11. I was satisfied with the endings of the Sundering books. When a book is part of a series I expect there to be several loose ends left, but I do expect them to end at some appropriate point in the story, not an obvious cliffhanger. The Sundering also benefits in that we all know how things turn out in the end.

    What’s most important to me is that the final book offers an ending worthy of the time I invested in the rest of the series. Don’t expect me to be happy with some kind of deus ex machina foolishness. Peter F. Hamilton’s “Naked God” is the case study in how not to end a series. I spent many, many hours enthralled by those novels and the last book left me feeling completely empty.

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  12. Was that a subtle hint to a sequel to Angels of Darkness?
    That book is pretty much what got me reading Black Library books. (that and the old school Space Marine which I think predates BL)
    I loved the ending to AoD, it was the only fitting ending for a 40k Novel!

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    • I’ve chatted to BL about possible future involvement with the Dark Angels, possibly following on from the events of Angels of Darkness, but nothing has been decided yet.

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  13. I thought the ending for Path of the Warrior was very good. The story’s intensity really just kept building and building to that theme we all know so well in 40k: that in the far future there is only war. The ending didn’t let that up and so drove the point home. I didn’t mind at all that the battle was left unconcluded because everything that was meant to be told had already been told well. I love how you put in all these layers in the story that all come together to create a very strong bigger picture.

    Angels of Darkness (and now Path of the Warrior) are now among my favourite 40k books! I love the grit and how you are unafraid to explore the darker and more alien sides of the 40k universe. 😀

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