Occasionally, writers try too hard to write a twist at the end of the book. It comes in the form of a cliffhanger or departs from the audience-capturing content already written in prior chapters. The important issue at hand is don’t. Forget the cliffhanger unless you’re planning a sequel and forget the plot twist unless it jives with the other 70,000 words just written. Unless you’re planning to write an ending true to what came before, the book will fall flat.
Hemingway once noted how he rewrote A Farewell to Arms’ ending over 40 times. Why did he do it? According to Hemingway, he understood the importance of “getting the words right.” He took advantage of human biology—how our brain function is primed to remember the last thing experienced. If the ending of the story tanks, then despite the book’s high quality, the reader is less likely to return for future works written.
Contemplate some movies of the past, where the movie was exceptional, but the public’s perception of the ending opened the debate for years to come.
… our brain function is primed to remember the last thing experienced.
I Am Legend (2007) is a superb dystopian movie featuring Will Smith and is an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel of the same title. The novel itself inspired many great movies over the decades, but the 2007 adaptation’s ending leaves audiences feeling deflated. Seeing the hero blow himself up in the name of martyrdom (when he didn’t actually need to) has left many fans of this movie shaking their heads.
Another example is Alice in Wonderland (2010), which is admittedly a favourite story of mine—but the ending! Urgh. The book, for which they base the movies, had so many unique aspects that captivated readers twice over . . . failed itself with the but it was all a dream ending—a cliche that killed the story’s impact.
Hemingway understood how the brain generally attaches the quality of a piece of work to the story’s ending. It’s no different to the Olympic gymnast executing the best performance of their life and then stumbling on their landing. Writing works on the same premise.
The moral of the so-called story here is to shelve your ego and not only that but to trust yourself with your writing. Know when to stop. You don’t need a huge cliffhanger ending to captivate audiences. Rather, the reader needs to be satisfied. Offer some closure to the journey, be courteous and understand that a person who picks up a book is often quite intelligent.