Story Structure: Four Kinds of Endings

While writing a first draft, the ending can either be something concrete you have in mind, or it can be where the story leads. Endings are the the fulfillment of all the tension, anticipation, and struggle that your reader has experienced alongside your protagonist. Successful endings will leave a reader feeling satisfied and not disappoint them.

Once you know what the end is, it can be evaluated based on two things: whether or not your protagonist achieved their goal and if their success (or failure) was good or bad.

With just those two things, there are four variations:

  • Happy Ending: protagonist achieves goal, success is a good thing
  • Tragic Ending: protagonist fails to achieve goal, failure is a bad thing
  • Personal Growth: protagonist fails to achieve goal, failure is a good thing
  • Personal Tragedy: protagonist achieves goal. success is a bad thing

In certain genres these can get even more specific, or have variations (like in Romance, where a Happy Ending might really be a Happy For Now).

There’s lots of examples of endings that are both good and bad – meaning those that are satisfying and those that are not – out there in the fiction world. Can you think of a book or a movie where the ending felt disappointing, and can you explain why? What would you have done differently? Have you ever been surprised in your own writing by a story ending? The comments are always open.

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