A couple of days ago I took my son to see Avengers 2 in the theater and, despite the $4000 bucket of stale popcorn and Diet Coke that contained more diet than Coke, we both had a good time. I'm not the world's biggest Marvel fan, but I understand the appeal for 11 year-old boys and anyone who wants to forget about life for two hours.

I remember enjoying the first Avengers movie a couple of years ago as well. I especially remember the last few moments after the credits, when the victorious group of superheroes were collapsed, half-dead around a table at the local shawarma house, chewing quietly and not uttering a word. I remember looking at my wife and telling her it was the greatest ending I'd ever seen on the big screen.

Now, you might think I'm nuts for saying something like that. The 'shawarma scene' wasn't a surprising reveal, it didn't pull at my heartstrings. It didn't fill me with wonder. It didn't inspire me. It didn't do any of those things to anybody who watched it. So, how come I think it's so good? The short and simple answer is that it made me leave the theater with a smile on my face and a love for the characters that I hadn't had ten minutes before. I less than 60 seconds, the Avengers are humanized and made instantly relatable. Who hasn't spent a really long day busting backside and decompressed with a tasty bite to eat and whole week's worth of slouching?

Plus it made me want shawarma, whatever that is.

And I doubt want to hear how the Marvel post-credit scenes are 'really' endings. Maybe most of them aren't supposed to be, but the ending of Avengers was. It was directly related to the previous scenes and put a nice cherry on top of the otherwise whipped-cream plot.

Story endings are like gifts. They can be a new Ferrari or they can be Monty Hall's goat. You want your endings to shine, not suck...at least for the average reader. I qualify it this way because no matter how goofy or messed-up your ending is, someone in the world will likely enjoy it (or at least forgive it). There are many good books with bad endings. The Stand by Stephen King has a howlingly bad final act and Ringworld by Larry Niven is a hot mess on the last few pages. These endings don't make their respective books bad by any stretch, but if they were written by less well-known authors I doubt many readers would turn a blind eye. One bad gift won't spoil Christmas, but you're likely to remember that one bad gift over ten equally good ones.

Reading any story is an investment of time and a well-crafted ending can make a reader believe the investment was a wise one. A good ending can also leave them wanting to read more, which is ideal if you are planning to write a series. Just remember that if you promise more by implication, make sure you deliver. Han Solo's gotta come out of that carbonite at some point...

I don't much care for the existential ending, or what I like to call 'French Cinema in Print', where things aren't resolved in any meaningful way and the implication is life goes on after the last word on the last page with none of the characters any better or worse because of it. Actually, implying life goes on after the last scene is fine and dandy (hence the 'shawarma scene' in Avengers), provided it doesn't negate the meaning behind the rest of the story. But when an ending does nothing more than make a nihilistic statement and screams 'nothing that has transpired before has any meaning or lasting value to you or anyone involved'. Think of every story you've ever seen or read where 'it was all just a dream'. Didn't you feel hopelessly cheated by that? I think this is why I hate the ending of Hitchcock's The Birds so much. The characters all pile into a car a drive away, with no resolution or meaning behind any of the events that made them survivors. We never know why the birds went nuts, we don't sense the characters have changed (and we don't find meaning behind any lack of change). It's meant to be creepy, but it comes across as stupid. A similar silver-screen ending that is infinitely better is in Planet of the Apes (the original 1968 version, not that 2001 abortion by Tim Burton). Our hero Taylor goes out into the world as one of the sole survivors in a world gone haywire. The terrible secret he discovers doesn't resolve anything and still leaves his fate in question, but it makes the audience ask questions about ourselves and our own future. We watch Taylor collapse to his knees and weep and we suddenly get it. I honestly think Hitchcock was going for the same thing in The Birds, I just think he failed.

Anyway, work on your endings. Golf is won in the short-game and so is writing. Give the final moments of your characters and their world some thought. Think about how your audience will react to the ending and don't enrage or cheat them. Write onto others as you would have them write unto you, or something like that. Twilight Zone endings are great as long as they aren't contrived, done-to-death, or so far-fetched as to be found on the back side of Pluto.

Otherwise, keep things simple. And have some shawarma.

On a related note, I'm very interested in seeing how the ending to the television series Mad Men is going to be handled. If you haven't seen the show, I would recommend it as a study of good character development and dialogue (the dialogue is top-notch). It's a bit soap-opera-ish, but with more humor than your typical daytime serial and fewer ridiculous cliff-hangers. The show is somewhat overrated (and my lovely wife doesn't like it at all), but it is worth checking out for analysis at the very least.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!