There’s something about soap opera, telenovelas specifically, that makes me happy. I grew up watching them and it was something that my mom, dad, and I could talk about, a frame of reference for future conversations.
When I returned home, I started watching them again but I didn’t want to watch the rehashed versions of a Spanish Cinderella. I just wasn’t about that life. That’s why I watched Bajo el Mismo Cielo, with the immigrant story lines, children of immigrants straddling culture lines, and gang life, I thought this was the most realistic novela I’ve seen in a long time.
And it was. It finished Monday night (novelas end after a couple of months) and thought that the ending of this story has several lessons for how to end novels, short stories, or whatever narrative you’re working on.
There’s always a character who needs to be redeemed
Redemption is such a strong theme and arc that when I see it in novels and tv shows it feels cliche to me. Usually, one character willingly gives their life for another one. They’ve done awful things — murder and mayhem — there’s no other out. So, they’ll push the button to the bomb and give everyone a chance to live happily ever after.
Sound familiar? There’s more than one way to end that story.
Listen, redemption characters have to die but that depends on your definition of dying. Dying is the ending of something. It can be life, love, or a way of life. That will depend directly on how big the murder and mayhem was that the character caused. If it’s big, it’s a physical death but they don’t have to go willingly. They can be forced to die but the death has to mean something.
Yes, the bad guy gets it in the end but the who and why are important
Ok, the bad guy gets it. They are punished. They don’t get a second chance. There’s no redemption. Usually, punishment means death. (It’s a soap opera, lots of people die.)
The bad guy’s death means something ends. It could be the chaos they created, the rabid bloodlust, etc. Endings mean beginnings and so if the bad guy gets it at the end, that means that their punishment reflects a new beginning, a new normal for the remaining characters.
No, that doesn’t mean they live happily ever after.
Who and how they go out also is important. The bad buy is a symbol. Remember the rule of protagonist vs antagonist? Well, for the characters the bad guy (antagonist) has kept the characters from getting what they want this whole time. The person who gets to punish this character should be to whom he’s done the most harm. By punishing them, they are symbolically taking a monkey off their back and winning against their vices.
Pay off is a big thing. You have to satisfy the viewer/reader
There’s a reason why there’s a big wedding at the end of novelas, it’s way satisfying the viewer.
Here’s the thing though, endings don’t have to have a big wedding or party celebrating a new life. Endings can be bittersweet, just like life.
That’s a lesson Bajo el Mismo Sol taught me. Yeah, it ended with a wedding but it wasn’t a Cinderella ending. Far from it. It was bittersweet, tainted by death and the end of mayhem.
Here’s the thing, endings should be the end of a snippet of time or life that the reader/viewer has read or seen. So there has to be a pay off for the end of THAT particular adventure not necessarily for the character’s life. Happily ever after is boring.
Theme is important. Theme ties up the ending
What you promise at the beginning you have to deliver at the end. So if the novel is about conquering planets, don’t turn it into a romance in 1800s England.
Seriously, don’t. What is that?
I know that’s an extreme example but it illustrates the point. If the theme of your work is love conquers all, love better be there at the end winning. That’s how the pay off works. You set something up at the beginning and then the end delivers it. That’s usually done through the theme.
Need some theme ideas. Here’s 101 of them.