Three Useful Terms for Discussing Endings

From “All Is Well: The Epilogue in Children’s Fantasy Fiction,” by Mike Cadden, in Narrative, Vol. 20, No. 3 (October 2012):
James Phelan makes a distinction between closure—simply “the way a narrative signals its end,” and what he calls “completion”: “the degree of resolution accompanying the closure. Closure need not be tied to the resolution of instabilities and tensions but completeness always is.” Many children’s fantasy tales provide closure only to move on to what is (or functions as) epilogue in order to satisfy what is perceived to linger in the mind of the reader after plot has been resolved. Closure is about the mechanics of the narrative progression (e.g., a story of a journey will signal closure when the protagonist returns to the starting point), while completion is about “instabilities” that drive the progression and direct the interests of implied readers (if the protagonist in the journey plot sets out to  right a wrong in another location and returns home with the situation in that place unchanged, the narrative would provide closure but not completion). In a similar vein, Maria Nikolajeva contrasts closure with the more specific phenomenon of “aperture,” which she describes as the state of psychological completion of the character at the end of the narrative. Will this character be well despite the rough ending? Can we extrapolate an upward swing in her fortunes or at least her relationship with her world?
I reprint this here because I always like finding official narrative theory terms for ideas or concepts editors have been using in practice for years:
  • Closure:  the story dynamics move it toward a clear end (and does not, say, abruptly quit in the middle of a scene, a la The Sopranos)
  • Completion:  with the conflicts or mysteries or lacks of the Action Plot resolved
  • Aperture:  And the protagonist’s emotional journey/plot likewise resolved in some way.
The presence of all three equals, I think, the most emotionally satisfying ending — though not perhaps the most challenging or innovative, if that’s what you’re going for instead.

A very interesting article if you like thinking about endings, epilogues, or why we write and publish for children the way we do.