I was just talking to a writer friend about how we want our scenes, our chapters, our stories as a whole, to be a little more jagged and gangly, with bits sticking out that don't quite fit. Neatness is often seductive -- you feel it's "right" if it all fits together -- but it is a small thing, and a false one.
The friend I was talking to was another writing Mommy, and we were particularly discussing our tendency to let the external pulls of our life creep into our fiction. Why did her scene end there? Because it was time for her to go pick up her daughter from school. Why are my chapters suddenly turning out at about 3,000 words? Because that's how many "keeper" words I can write in a week. Deep true artististic reasons, both.
But it is hard to resist the temptation to wrap things up at the end of the day, and make them neat. Leaving bits hanging feels like leaving wounds open. Or, less dramatically, like stopping your knitting in the middle of a row, without casting off and tying a knot. If you leave loose threads - won't it all unravel? But writing is not knitting. Writing is wild. It does not prosper when we clip it short and box it up so. Ursula LeGuin wrote that all art tryings to say the unsayable--and writing, God help us, tries to say the unsayable in words. It ought to be rough. It ought to be shaggy.
(A related point, which I won't develop here: outlines don't work for me. I observe that they work for other people but I don't understand how they possibly could.)
Endings are of course place where one is tempted to pull all the threads together and tie a bunch of knots. That's legitimate. You don't want a novel that feels like it's going to come to pieces in your hands. Novels - this is a remarkably controversial statement, but - novels are big stories. When you come to the end of a story you don't want to be startled by the storyteller's sudden silence. You don't want to look up going: "wait, what's wrong, did you choke on something? Did the transmission cut out? Did they leave out the last few pages? WHAT? WHAT!?" At the end of the story you want the sigh and the silence, and then the impulse to stand up and cheer. You don't get that if you don't make a good ending.
But many, many books go too far in making endings. They tie everything up too neatly. They end with a great clanging final thump.
The thing is, book endings aren't really endings. (Unless they end with the world blowing up.) They often have that sense of launching something new, of going through a new door. Even something as simple as "and they lived happily ever after" is about putting a big door at the end of the novel and then opening it up. I personally like readers to be able to imagine the future of my characters, and to be able to glimpse what it is. It's not too different than the way I like them to be able to glimpse the back stories of the assorted secondary characters. That these untold stories are there adds richness, even if no one writes them.
Endings are like ... weddings, I suppose, which is why books often end with the bells ringing. In life it's bad when weddings are viewed as endings. Anyone who's successfully married will tell you a wedding is a beginning, or at least merely a climax at the end of Act One. Still, weddings have that quality I look for in novel endings, of ceremony and transition, of possibilities changing.
And like weddings, the happiest of endings can sometimes make me cry. And I like that.