The purpose of the ending is to answer the initial question posed by the beginning. In a typical romance story, the initial question is always, “Will the boy and girl finally fallen love?” Then the ending is usually, “Yes, they finally fall in love.” Sometimes in tragedies the answer is “No, they stay separate and unhappy forever.” (Brokeback Mountain)
The typically way to end any story is to create a happy ending. Comedies and action thrillers typically end with a happy ending.
If you’re creating a tragedy, then you want a sad ending where the hero fails to achieve his or her initial goal. Horror movies often end with tragic ending but many drama stories end tragically too.
A variation of the tragic ending is that the hero fails to achieve his or her initial goal, but actually gets something much better. In “Legally Blonde,” the hero’s goal is to win back her boyfriend who dumped her. Yet she fails but actually gets something better by becoming the top law student in her graduating class and falling in love with a better man.
A variation of the happy ending is that the hero achieves his or her initial goal, but it comes at a bitter cost. In “Casablanca,” the initial question is whether Rick will ever become less selfish. Eventually he does, but he has to lose the woman he loves to another man to do it. In “Harold and Maude,” the initial question is whether Harold will ever find a reason to live. By the end, he does, but it comes at the cost of seeing Maude, the love of his life, die from suicide.
So the four ways to end any story are:
- A happy ending where the hero wins
- A tragic ending where the hero loses
- An ending where the hero loses, but actually gets something much better
- An ending where the hero wins, but at a bitter cost
Try creating all four ending variations for your story. Then you’ll be able to pick the best one for your particular story.