Whether it's a book, movie, or even a comic, I think everyone can agree that there are timeless stories. As a reader or viewer, one thing that I have been more aware of recently is what sets apart a good story from the rest of the bunch. I'll be the first to admit: my sample size isn't terribly large. While I do watch many films, it wasn't until around a year or two ago that I began to question more than just visuals. Let's not even begin to talk about how little I read.
Anyway, one of the observations I made while thinking about this topic was that all good stories come to an end (but not all stories that end are good). The reason I say this is because, in my experience of viewership and readership, the stories that have ended are the ones that have me wanting for more. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
In one sense, you can think of stories that have ended as stories where the relevant plot has unraveled and solved itself. Immediate examples that I can think of are: The Lord of the Rings trilogy (meaning, not including the Hobbit or the Silmarillion), the Harry Potter series, the quintessential Friends, and to some lesser degree (in my opinion), How I Met Your Mother, just to name a few. Of course, these are all series. There are plenty of individual novels, films, etc. that carry the same weight.
I say that these stories have "fulfilled their purpose" because, in some way or another, the author or writer/director of the story has finished telling what they set out to do. At the end, we, as viewers or readers, have a sense of closure. The closure, I believe, is characteristic of good stories, which is why I said not all stories that end are good.
But we've all been there as fans: our favorite book or series comes to an end and we are left with nothing but memories and our own "what ifs" of what the characters go through after the presented story ends. But by and large, we can be satisfied with what we were given (although, maybe bitter that we don't get more).
The other side of the coin is that writers of the story know where to end. One reason that I like to read the end of books before going through all of it—yes, turns out I'm one of those people—is because often times you can get a good sense of direction in terms of, did the author know where he or she was going when they started this? This is admittedly how I got through the entirety of Harry Potter.
Movies like Shawshank Redemption or The Most Distant Course (Taiwan) have been pretty good examples of this for me: in the case of both movies, you reach the end and get the sense that there was no other end that this (or these) stories could have had. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they had "perfect" endings, but rather that they had the "most suitable" endings.
Briefly, I also want to visit the topic of stories that have ended that were not good. On TV, we see this a lot: some series get pulled off the air before their first season even finishes airing. This isn't always because of poor storytelling as the exodus towards online streaming has been whittling away at TV viewership percentages, but most of the time you could probably chalk it up to that. One reason that I find behind many cancellations is that these stories seem to lack focus and direction, the exact opposite of a good story have a finite goal. Similarly, series that are dragged out long after their welcome often run the risk of losing that original focus. On TV, one of the most prominent examples was Scrubs, which ran much longer than its originally intended length because of TV execs wanting more. Moving onto manga, my most ready examples are two series that a lot of people might be familiar with: Bleach and One Piece. I'm a bit biased because One Piece is my favorite, but both series have more than 500 chapters (with One Piece nearing 800 I believe). The difference is that the goal of the series was stated very clearly at the beginning of One Piece, while Bleach kind of floundered around for several hundreds of chapters before finally fizzling out.
But perhaps the greatest example of my point is only revealed once you have read this far. I began writing this article-ish thing because I thought of one line (hint: it's the first one). Without much direction, I continued to write and rant until I was left with what you read here. I didn't even bother going back to edit it. If you happen to like this piece, I'm going to go ahead and predict that the moment you close this page, you will more or less stop thinking about what I wrote, and it will forever be a trifle part of your subconscious.
As I began to work on a new script for a short film recently, consider this as (hopefully) the last thing I write that is of this nature. While I don't plan on outlining anything any time soon, I will make a greater effort to write in a concise and thoughtful manner that makes you want to read or think more.
Thanks for making it this far! Cheers to the new year and another writing-based "resolution"!
(image via mashuto on reddit)