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Endings That Are Sunsets: Bittersweet and Satisfying


There isn't a time in my life where I can't remember writing.

But writing wasn't always so pleasant. When I was little I was very proud of my handwritten, self-illustrated short stories. But in my early teens . . . I was nearly ashamed of my struggling novels and hid them from all prying eyes.

I needed to write stories others could love. But every story I started wandered away into some unknown abyss.

Horrible.
Dark.
Undefinable.

Then, in my late teens, writing changed for me after I joined a knitting group. I found a writing community on there, and we were challenged to write a short story from the prompts given.

I'd only tried to write novels, never short stories. At least not since I was little. But over the process of this challenge, of writing several short stories, magic found my pen and something clicked for me.

I'd been writing to just to write.

I wanted a story to tell – but I wasn't telling the stories I knew. All the novels I'd tried writing weren't me. They were me trying to write something that felt like a real novel. But I wasn't writing from my reality – and my endings were what gave me away the most.

My stories had no goals.
My ending had been the abyss that ate away everything.
My characters were people I didn't know.
I had no plots, I had no themes. I had nothing but words.

Until these writing challenges.

I learned to embrace my creativity. I looked at the prompts, and “What ifs” came to me . . . along with endings.

I couldn't even write a novel, and suddenly I saw the ending of my story before I'd even written it! I was elated and wrote these short stories for a good year or more before “graduating” on to other my own writing goals.

It wasn't until after using this process and finishing my first novella Silent Thoughts that I was finally able to articulate how I was doing what I was doing.

“I write sunsets,” I told a friend.

Here is what I meant:


Sunsets are the end of the day. That can be sad if you don't want the day to end. It can be relieving if the day has been too long. It can be bittersweet if the day was full of all sorts of things. But either way, most sunsets are satisfying and beautiful and give you a chance to breathe and think back on all of the day and appreciate the beauty you now see. Sunsets also hold anticipation. Because darkness will follow. It always does. But after the night, there is remains hope – the promise of another sun rising tomorrow.


Now when I write I don't just write.

I have a story to tell – actually, I have so many stories to tell. It's just a matter of choosing which one to write first. But before beginning any of my stories I envision the ending I want.

This ending may be vague in my head. It may be only a mood I feel.
When I wrote Let Me Meet Death Dancing the entire plot formed itself in my head, but I saw the ending only as an emotion. Let Me Meet Death Dancing ended when I found that emotion.

It may be perfectly imagined out – when I wrote Silent Thoughts the ending was the only scene I knew before writing the story. I didn't know any of my characters or my plot or my story. I wrote Silent Thoughts reaching out to that ending until I found it.

I'm not saying it's easy to write now.

But knowing my endings has drained the process of misery. It's also taught me that stories are not just words on paper, but words to capture something bigger.

And there's something about a beautiful ending – one that is both bittersweet and satisfying – that I feel I was born to write into every single one of my stories. Maybe that's because I love writing realistically moving fiction that captures the many aspects of human relationships and life?

Maybe it's because I relate when hope cries, laughter aches, joy knows pain?

Maybe it's mostly because I strongly believe fiction is meant to show us how to better embrace (not escape) reality, and story endings are what give us back to reality.
I want to leave the story feeling inspired and refreshed and equipped. And I want my readers to be able to do the same.

Yet, I don't feel sunset endings are unique to me, though I think this is my terminology.

Many of my favorite books have endings just like a sunset.
Authors like Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, and some of Stephanie Morrill's books.
A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews and Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson are two more examples of sunset endings.

You can call them bittersweet if you like – but I find them satisfying, too. Realistically inspiring. Overwhelmingly relatable. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Just like a sunset.

Do you like sunset endings? Can you think of any other books with such endings? What kind of endings do you like to write?

Comments

  1. J+M+J
    Yes indeed, "A good story leaves the reader wanting more," And as an author, who has by the time the book ends, been with his characters through thick and thin (and either developed an extreme distaste or fallen in love with them), it leaves the author wanting even more then the reader! But yes, it does indeed feel like a sunset.... It is such a wonderful feeling indeed when one comes to the end of a good story.... You want more, but yet you don't want more. You are content, but yet you are discontent. It is the most complete, and yet the most incomplete. And the whole feeling of emotion just hints you to remember your place, and how life is the same: it feels complete and yet incomplete, real and yet unreal, old and yet young. So a good story ending reflects and points to us as human beings in our Earthly lives, and reminds us, by this complete uncompletness, that we are living for something far greater.
    Sorry, I am probably just repeating your post mostly, but that was a thought-spill after reading it (which I quite agree to by the way). So great post!
    Oh, and haha, I find it ironic that the only book I've yet completed literally ends with a sunset scene... the last line being "The sun had set over Crosslan."
    (Well, that is discluding the epilogue, but that's essentially an add-on to hook the reader for the next book, if they weren't hooked already.... *evil grin*)
    I suppose though, my short stories don't all end with literal sunsets... and my other books won't I believe (take that back, Book two in the Crosslan series will end very similar to book one), but I still think all books should end, as you said, with an implied "sunset scene."

    The Doorman.

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    1. Wow, that's an amazing comment, even if it does reiterate what I said ;) I like how you said it ;)
      That's so funny! TBH, I don't think any of my stories have a literal sunset at the ending? Maybe one? But that's the feeling I have with them all. And you write short stories? That's epic .. short stories are some of my favorites and I think it's great that others love them, too.

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  2. This just beautiful, Keturah. ♥ I love that bittersweet feeling when you finally end a favorite novel. There is definitely sadness attached to a sunset ending...but there's also satisfaction and the appreciation of something we can relate to. Because, while there are happy endings in life, everyone has their low moments as well. And I think that sunset endings really allow us to embrace that.

    Enough of my ramblings XD, thanks for the lovely post!

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    1. Oh, your ramblings are perfect ;O Thank you! I so agree. I mean, who doesn't wish for a happy life? But the low moments are what make the high moments the best, and that's why we love sunsets so much ;)

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  3. This is so beautiful. What a lovely way of thinking about endings. <3 Immediately as I was reading your description of sunsets, I thought of the ending of Lord of the Rings. (particularly the movies, but the books apply as well) It is, to me, the epitome of satisfying, bittersweet endings. A sunset is a perfect way to describe it. :)

    theonesthatreallymatter.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Emily. And wow, you're so right. It completely has that sunset vibe ending. I'll admit when I was younger I pretty much hated the ending, but not I love it as I actually understand it ;D

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  4. THIS POST IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED RIGHT NOW!!!

    I've been struggling with the ending of my work-in-progress and it's frustrating me. Usually endings are easy for me. (Middles on the other hand, are where I usually get bogged down *glares at the evil middles of books*). I've been trying to figure out, not HOW the book ends, I've kind of got that nailed down, but something.... more elusive and intangible that I wasn't quite able to put to words until reading this post. Because my endings are usually not sunsets. They are... the first stars popping out AFTER the sunset. I hope to leave the reader, not with wistful longing for the dying day, but with enthusiasm for what tomorrow will bring and wonder at the beauty of the darkness in between... that... when you gaze up at the stars... you realize isn't really all that dark, after all.

    But this story is different.

    This story... needs a sunset ending.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. That makes me sooo happy!
      But ... wow, I love that popping star imagery ;0 To see light where you think there was only darkness, and to be able to see toward a bigger light? Now THAT is profound ;)

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  5. Ending can be hard. Though I think the middle can be the hardest for me. Loved this post!


    astorydetective.blogspot.com

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    1. Yeah I agree, middles are often the hardest parts to write. Which is sad, as that's most of the story ;) Thanks!

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  6. Oh I love this so very much! Endings are SO crucial to a good story (whether it's two hundred words or two hundred pages long), and once a writer has pinned down what they like in an ending?--that's a big step right there.

    I love sunset endings! And that terminology is perfect. (And Lois Lowry's Number the Stars...yes. Beautiful ending. So sad. But so satisfying.)

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    1. THANKS! It is crucial, and a huge step ... the final step, if you will ;)

      so glad you love it ... and her books are AMAZING. I own Number the Stars, but have yet to read it.

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  7. I love how you describe your writing!

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  8. Yes, I LOVE sunset endings. If a story ends TOO happily or TOO sad then it isn't satisfying. But a story that's a little sad but mostly happy is good, in my mind. There's this TV show I watched awhile back [and still re-watch sometimes] called Chuck where the whole show was really sweet and lighthearted but they had a tragic ending which kinda made no sense. If the story's dark then the ending could be dark but why write a happy story with a tragic ending?

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    1. oh my that show sounds devastating ... but my twisted heart would probably love it ;d Thank you!

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  9. Yes, it was a really great show though. Mmhmm part of me really likes tragedy, too (in fiction of course) and I always tell people "If you like tragedy watch the reboot Battlestar Galactica." Seriously though that show almost made me cry a couple times and I almost never cry at TV shows.

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    1. Ah, well I'll have to check it out sometime, then ;) Tragedy in fiction is great ... though a little bit less in real life would great, too, I agree ;) I rarely cry, too. So I'll keep an eye out for that.
      OH, and thanks for following my blog!!!!

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