A good ending

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay

What makes for a satisfying ending to a story?

I recently watched a film on Netflix which I enjoyed but also left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. The Wonder is based on a novel by Emma Donaghue, who also wrote Room (neither of which I’ve read). Set in Ireland in 1862, the film stars Florence Pugh as an English nurse who travels to rural Ireland to observe a young girl who is fasting from food, yet somehow miraculously surviving. The girl is seen as a saint by her devout family and her rural community, but the nurse – who has secrets of her own – uncovers the dark truth behind this apparent miracle. The shadow of the Great Irish Famine hangs heavily over the brooding Irish landscape and the taciturn villagers who are innately suspicious of the English visitor in their midst. I have seen a famine cemetery, on the coastal road leading through the Burren in County Clare, and the pathetic little stones in the silent churchyard marking the final resting places of the famine dead looked to me like accusations. As well they should, given that it was my people, the English, who bore considerable responsibility for the terrible suffering.

The film is worth watching, not least for Florence Pugh’s compelling performance and for the gorgeous cinematography. However, I had an issue with the film’s conclusion which prevented the ending from being completely satisfying. I can’t say whether it’s true to the author’s intent because I’ve not read her book, and I won’t say what it was in case you want to see the film.

I can often find endings in current films and books unsatisfying. Morally ambivalent, or not tying up loose ends strongly enough. Whereas I could quote any number of classic novels which have strong and deeply memorable endings, even if they’re not happy ones. (One of my favourite endings is the haunting final line of Wuthering Heights). Speaking personally, I don’t need an ending to be happy, but I do like a story to be humane and compassionate and not completely devoid of hope. The Christian faith balances reality with hope and redemption, and as a Christian writer (and reader), that’s what I find satisfying in stories. Also speaking as a Christian writer (and reader), I don’t want slick, easy answers either in fiction or theology. Give me characters who struggle and who have a substantial character arc. I can cope with quite a lot of darkness and pain in films and books, as long as there is a substantive streak of redemption, and of compassion for the human condition. I would hope to strike those important notes in my own writing.

(There is also a place for comfort writing and reading, and maybe that's a subject for a future post.)

I am the administrator for the education and learning department of the United Reformed Church. I am also an Anglican lay minister. I wrote a devotional for the anthology Light for the Writer’s Soul published by Media Associates International, and my short story ‘Magnificat’ appears in the ACW Christmas anthology Merry Christmas Everyone.

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