Death is a tragic and traumatic event in life. It can come in the form of a broken friendship, a broken body or a broken heart. After the finale, you are left with vivid memories and tales of past deeds. While it is heart-wrenching to think of such finality for a character, as in life, every story must have an end.
This topic of discussion came up as Jei and I went over past characters and their own narrative conclusions. It brought to light the question of when and why a character’s ending is appropriate.
While not every character must go down in a flame of glory, they all should be given a proper ending. This means anything from a happily ever after to a dramatic death scene. No matter how you do it, there are many valid reasons to end a character’s tale. These are the ones we came up with during our discussion.
Their story has been told. The current plot that the character has lived through has taken its course. Along with the current plot, any sequential plots would not add to the character or the series as a whole. With these two factors in place and the development of the character to a satisfactory point, it is a good time to find an end, good or bad, for that character.
They have played their part. This can be seen in a lot of stories that are not centered around a main character but instead are centered around a group of multiple characters interacting within the world to tell the overall story. What happens in this regard is that certain characters come into play and do their part to press the story forward. When they have done what they were meant to do, it is only appropriate for that character to exit stage left in some fashion to make way for the rest of the narrative.
Their end will help develop other characters. Removing a character from the web of connections to other characters in a book can cause a ripple effect. We have seen it multiple times where the pinnacle death scene pushes the protagonist to make an irrational decision or the sudden abandonment of a once ally to the antagonist may bring about a change of heart. In each situation, the ending of one character equals a motivation or change for the others they are associated with and can add to the story as a whole.
They have reached a point of maximum growth. This varies from character to character, but the common thread amongst them is that their character has reached a point that they are either so powerful or so broken that any further story or interaction would delve into the unrealistic. At this point, it is better to conclude the character’s story in some fashion instead of allowing them to fall into the pit of unrelatable.
On top of the why, we discussed the methods of which we could end a character’s life or story. There was, of course, some hilarious exchanges about wild ideas of how to kill off a villain, but we did eventually break it down to a more useful outline of advice on possible ways to make sure their ending is appropriate.
Make it meaningful. The end of a character’s story should serve a purpose. Simply killing off or exiting a character out of a desire for drama leaves the reader feeling jaded and robbed of the story the character could have told. Think hard on why you are finalizing the character’s tale and how that ending could tie the story together.
Give the character a memorable death. If you go the route of killing off a major or minor character, be sure that you are giving them a death that is deserving of their story. Make it a poignant moment that evokes emotion and leaves the reader with a vivid memory of how they died.
Summarize the happily (or unhappily) ever after. Another appropriate way to give a proper conclusion to a character’s story is to write out a snippet of what their life becomes years down the road. A lot of readers want to know what happened to their favorite characters after the end of the book and this can be a satisfying cherry on top.
Leave it as an open-ended return to life. This is something that, while it is not our favored method, works well in some instances. After they go through the roller coaster ride the author put them through, the characters can attempt to go back to their life. This leaves a more open feeling of interpretation when it comes to their finalization but is still a valid way to end their journey.
While there are many other reasons and methods to give your character an end, the point remains: every character deserves an appropriate finale.
What kind of endings have you given your characters in the past? What other methods have you seen that could be used? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!