Pacing That Ending

Oh, if only there were a way to avoid writing endings. While they are, of course, instrumental, impactful, and the main takeaway for your readers, they’re also hard. You have a lot to wrap up: your plot, your character’s journey, your themes… It’s one of the most difficult parts of writing a story.

Since good endings are so difficult to write, it’s no wonder that they can be hard to find. The main issue I usually find with endings nowadays is pacing. Pacing is integral to nailing an ending, but unfortunately, many times it’s overlooked favour of long-winded plot twists or quick and flashy wrap-ups. In this post, I want to take a look at why some endings fall short and why others have greatly succeeded.

Too Slow!

Have you ever been watching the end of a movie and gotten utterly bored during the last 15 minutes? The story is taking so long to wrap up that there’s no tension, excitement, or anticipation left.

This doesn’t mean that endings need to be chock-full of things to look at. Some great examples of endings can be found in Agatha Christie’s novels, which often have very long denouements but still keep you on the edge of your seat. There’s so much tension that there doesn’t need to be action!

Yet, this kind of ending is quite difficult to grasp. Many have tried, and many have failed.

Loki

One such ending that fell short for me was the finale of Loki. Now, I will admit that I’m not a Marvel fan, but I did enjoy Loki…until the end. To be honest, it’s the only time I’ve ever felt physically uncomfortable watching something because it was so slow. I just felt awkward, because that was the feeling I was getting from the episode. Awkward.

And it all came down to pacing.

Loki was full of fights, escapes, and generally lots of action. There were some more low-key moments peppered in, but there was still a lot of flashy goodness for regular Marvel fans to appreciate.

And then of course, in the finale, there’s just…talking?

Not only did the finale not fit the show, but it hardly moved at all. It was completely stagnant (and downright uncomfortable) until the very, very end. A lot of writers will recognise what happened here, because most of us have done it. We’re required to write something a certain length, but we don’t quite reach the goal, so we add some fluff and draw some scenes out to get there.

To me, this seems to be what happened to Loki. There wasn’t enough content to get to the end, so the last episode consisted of a lengthy talk that took up most of the episode and revealed the answers to many of the questions raised throughout the series (which weren’t even satisfying answers, I might add, but that’s a different post). For me, the last episode absolutely killed the whole show.

But just to prove I’m not biased, my next example is from a series that I really enjoy.

Wait! I Need to Catch Up!

The opposite extreme, of course, is an ending that’s way too fast. These are rather more common than slow endings because you can sort of get away with them by being flashy. These endings often stem from a lack of planning, forcing everything from an entire series to be solved at the very end rather than pacing out revelations across the series.

The Rise of Skywalker

As I mentioned earlier, the Star Wars series is one I really love. I’d say that I’m somewhere in the middle between a casual fan and a crazy die-hard fan who’s read every single book.

But the sequel trilogy… Oh boy. It has problems – nearly all of which have to do with, you guessed it, pacing.

The Force Awakens is fantastic, and one of my favourite Star Wars movies. But with The Last Jedi and finally The Rise of Skywalker, a glaring problem becomes apparent.

The story wasn’t planned ahead of time.

The result is that The Last Jedi, while not awful in and of itself, barely furthers the plot that was set up in the first movie, leaving both the continuation and wrapping up of the plot to The Rise of Skywalker.

So really, it’s no wonder that Rise is insanely fast-paced and just barely patched together. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy the movie, but it really would have been something if the pacing of the story would have been laid out better. As it is, there are a bunch of plot points thrown at you out of nowhere, while at the same time it tries to satisfactorily answer for everything that’s happened throughout pretty much the entire Skywalker Saga.

The movie put too much of a burden on itself, and therefore, it became a sloppy, quick ending that just barely stood up on its own two legs. It still completely boggles my mind that they went into the sequel trilogy without a real plan – I mean, it’s Star Wars, come on! – but oh well.

The point is that, with good pacing, they could have spaced out the resolution of multiple plot points across all three movies rather than leaving 99% of the chore to Rise.

Just Right

In the middle of these two extremes, you have a beautiful, perfect balanced ending. These are few and far between, but they do exist! They just take a lot of planning and a lot of work to achieve.

Return of the King

Yes, I am going there.

Return of the King has a fabulous ending. It perfectly wraps up the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy at a steady pace. Rather than having every conflict be resolved right at the end, the entire book is full of issues that have plagued the series being solved one by one until finally the last challenge remains: casting the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom.

The success of Return of the King is owed to the pacing of the entire series. If Fellowship and Towers didn’t do their jobs, Return would run the risk of being too drawn out or wrapping up everything too quickly.

As it turns out, though, Tolkien knew what he was doing. The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy maintains a refreshingly even pace, even in the finale. This means that Return had space to flesh out the final conflicts but could keep a quick enough pace to keep readers interested.

Be in the Middle

Obviously, when writing your stories, you want to strive for a Return of the King-like ending that’s well balanced and maintains an even pacing – not too fast and not too slow. As I said before, it is very difficult to do, but not impossible.

Just make sure to think of your story as a unit. While there is a time and place for thinking of it in parts (beginning, middle, end, etc.), you also have to think of your story as a whole. Your ending is not a standalone piece; it’s part of a bigger story.

So when you’re writing that epic ending next time, consider pacing. It can make or break your entire story.


Want to learn more about how to write great endings? Subscribe to my weekly newsletter and get a free copy of my short fiction writing guidebook, The 10 Lost Elements of Storytelling.

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