Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What One Life to Live Taught Me About Endings

Back in November (when I confessed how I loved the reality show Dirty Soap), I shared with you all my love of the daytime soap, One Life to Live. OLTL has been off air for over a week, but I finally brought myself to watch the finale on Sunday night. I watched it with mixed feelings: anticipation over how they were going to tie up a show with a 43 year legacy, sadness over the loss of one of my favorite shows, and annoyance that I’ll have to now watch General Hospital*.

One thing I thought I could learn from watching the OLTL finale was how to effectively create an ending. Maybe the writers would show me a few tricks to know where my final scene is.

What I didn’t anticipate in the final minutes was to see someone who we all believed to be dead. And by all, I even mean the supposed killer thought the victim was dead. My shriek of “WHAT!?” may or may not have startled The Stripey One awake**

While a cliffhanger is a possible way to end a story, I consider it sort of cheating. The reader doesn’t get the satisfaction of learning the whole story. When this type of shit happens in books that I’ve devoted hours (sometimes YEARS***) to, I throw the book. For a story to be satisfying, there needs to be completion. A lot of times the cliffhanger ending brings up several new questions which ultimately belong in a new story.

So how do you know when you have a solid ending? If you plot, you have a framework and an ending in mine. If you don’t, you relying more on luck. This is what I’m struggling with on my revisions for Falling to Normal. None of my endings are satisfying, which  means that I’m ending in the wrong place.

The only way to fix something like this is trial and error. And some trucker language. Maybe wine. Lots of it. One thing is definite, I’m not going to have someone come back from the dead in the last minutes.

Tell me, Lurkdom: how do you create the best ending possible?


* Only because a few of my favorite characters from OLTL are moving over in February. That will be interesting.

** It’s my belief that I’ll learn more about that particular bombshell in February when the OLTL characters move over, but until then I’ll scowl whenever I think of it.

*** I’m looking at you, Stephen King.


  1. Since I watch General Hospital, I'm thrilled to have some of the OLTL characters coming over. I heard that All My Children had a cliffhanger ending, too, when it went off the air. Not sure why - guessing in case the show ever gets picked up somewhere else again? If GH ever goes off, I think I'd prefer some ridiculously sappy (even if it's unrealistic) ending where all the characters are finally in a good place.

    1. I was totally rooting for all the characters that I loved to be in a perfect place or at least a place that worked for them and their story line. Don't be surprised to get an email from me asking for a Cliff Notes of what I need to know about current GH stories.

  2. I'm so glad you posted this. My current WIP has an upcoming ending of "bad guy wins" and I'm not sure how to make that satisfying for the reader. Cliffhangers are too gimmicky, especially if there is a sequel. I should want to read the next book (watch the next season) because the first one was *that* good, not because they threw some mystery in right at the end.

  3. I have zero answers. I suck at endings. I just revise and revise and revise until someone finally tells me, "This'll do."

  4. Like Meredith, I have no answers. I prefer endings that give closure and tie up main story threads, but still allow me to imagine my own future for the characters. Does that even make sense? Good luck nailing down your ending. It is SO HARD!

  5. That's possibly the worst ending ever. No character should come back from the dead if it takes place in a contemporary setting. And cliffhangers annoy me because they work on me. Even if I don't love a book I'm suckered into reading the sequel if the first ends in a cliffhanger. I hate being played like that. But ending a series with a cliffhanger? That's so frustrating! I've never read a book where that's happened, though.

    I usually start writing with an ending scene in mind, and I think that's easier than coming up with an ending after I've written the rest. I'm not sure why. I think the best way to tell if you've nailed an ending, though, is to ask your CPs. Sometimes it's so hard to see why our own endings aren't working. I had someone point out all of the unsatisfying facts about my ending once and it really helped me find one that worked. Good luck!

  6. Great lesson about endings. I feel like characters coming back from the dead is such a soap opera trademark that I wouldn't mind this ending in a soap but in a book it would be to much of a cliffhanger.


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