Thursday, 15 March 2012

The importance of a good ending

When I'm writing, I often have trouble with the endings. I know roughly how I want things to turn out, but I think I could do with mapping out the exact ending a lot earlier.

In fact, I may go as far as to make it the first scene I write.

There are many different ways of going about your writing, and no one should tell you how your story should end; after all it's a personal thing, it's your story, and you can end it however you like.

You do however have a responsibility to your reader to make the ending consistent and logical and satisfying. It doesn't have to be rainbows and unicorns all the time, with everyone living happily ever after, but it does need to resolve the most pressing questions that a reader may have.

The reason that I'm bringing this up is down to the recently launched Mass Effect 3 game, from BioWare. I haven't played it yet, but I have completed the first two in the series, and they are superb games. They thrive on giving you a choice. You can alter the way your story is told through making a variety of decisons along the way.

It's not where you're going, it's how you get there.

The internet is currently all aflutter with discontent over the ending to Mass Effect 3; not because (and potentially a big spoiler alert here!) it's such a downbeat ending, but because it removed the relevance of your decision making throughout the entire series of games. For a game built on the notion of player choice affecting an outcome, that's quite a betrayal.

And that's why I think people are so upset - we all know from stories we've read and films we've seen that not everything turns out for the best. But if you're going to have that sort of ending, you need to give people closure.

It's the same thing with writing. Imagine you're reading a novel and you're invested in the characters and their plight, and right at the end, the author just finishes the story without explaining what happened to everyone. That's the author's right - it's their story after all; but how many people are going to give the next story a chance if they know they're not getting a satisfying conclusion?

It's not about whether the ending is "good" or "bad", "upbeat", or "bone-crushingly depressing" - it's about whether the reader (or player) can walk away knowing why the ending happened the way it did, and what happened to the characters they encountered along the way.

Video games are often ridiculed for their story qualities, and in many cases, it's been deserved. Mass Effect however is one of those series that really showcased how to tell stories well in the medium of video gaming. I think that's what's gotten so many people upset: this is a series that started in 2007. These characters have been around for 5 years. They deserved a better send-off than the one they got.

Hopefully that won't be the case with your characters or mine should they be lucky enough to see print.

I will get to play Mass Effect 3 at some point. It's a wonderful science-fiction universe that BioWare have created, so if you haven't tried any of them, give them a whirl.

Happy writing.