Good Endings: A Fearful Thing
At the end of the highly successful film The Bourne Identity, the actor Matt Damon somehow finds the actress Franka Potente on what appears to be a Mediterranean island, a final scene that is as joyous as it is unexpected. We did expect Damon to be victorious in his violent struggles against those trying to destroy him; we did not expect him to be able to find the woman who had become his comrade in arms, and perhaps more than that, in mid story. Until the final scene, we were not even sure the story could have a romantic outcome of any kind.
In the related world of novels, I find that if a novel doesn’t end in the way I’d hoped, I probably won’t read another story by that same author. I’ve already noted, in my comments about Good Beginnings, that, for me to read very far in a novel, I have to like the main character. The major secondary characters, too. They have to be people I can pull for, can hope for, can be nervous on behalf of.
Some literary critics view this differently. They think that endings in which things turn out well for the main characters do not represent how things are in the real world. They may decide a novel is a failure for that very reason.
My view, in contrast, is that things quite often turn out well in the real world. Many childhoods are happy. Many marriages are happy. Many people die in old age in the company of their loved ones, having lived lives that are praiseworthy.
One of the dictionary definitions for the word denouement is, “…the climax of a chain of events.” Since my novels focus on mystery and action, the denouement usually includes violent conflict in which my main character, Rebecca, and her family are in great danger. It is usually not clear to the reader whether or not she and her family will get out of the danger unscathed… or at all.
In my stories the denouement usually comes in the next to last chapter, the penultimate chapter. Then, in the very last chapter, the loose ends are tied up, which means there are conversations: people discussing what normalcy will look like for them, now that the crisis appears to be over.
As we reach the end of the fifth novel in my Rebecca Series – after the denouement – the two new major characters, Marie Campbell and Jack McGriff, find themselves sitting together on a flight from Washington to New York. They had grown close during their violent struggles against Rebecca’s enemies in mid-story, but McGriff has seemed hesitant to approach her romantically with too much seriousness.
What kind of ending will readers be given?
Well… one of my readers once said to me, “I trust you to give me the kind of ending I can live with.”
I trust me, too.
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