Russian playwright Anton Chekhov famously wrote:
Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
What he was referring to is that when writing, you better give payoff for whatever you set up in your story. Surprisingly, the failure to do this most often manifests itself in the endings of books or films. Years ago, I was reading a particular bestselling thriller that everyone was reading. It contained action and conspiracy and adventure, but then came the ending. “Is this it?” I asked myself. “People really think this is great?”
The author had all this build-up and expectations, so high that the ending was overshadowed. Perhaps he was hoping the rest of the story would compensate? Sales of the book seemed to vindicate the book, but when have we become so easily entertained that we overlook a poor ending?
Part of it may come from motion pictures. Blockbuster films jam the film with so many expensive set pieces and action sequences, the traditional slow burn to a climax is often nonexistent. When the big showdown does unfold, it isn’t so spectacular. It’s as if the film makers spent all their money already or didn’t bother thinking the end through as well as the previous acts. This doesn’t stop many of these films from being successful, but it can make others that do have a real climax a refreshing change.
Just as beginings are critical, don’t let your endings flounder. Don’t hope that the preceding chapters will make people overlook bad final pages. Maybe they will, but is that the standard you want to follow?
A great ending can also be a great beginning, but make sure the reader wants to read what you write next.