…there is an ending.
Completing a story is not as cut and dry as one might think. You don’t necessarily want to put a bow on it. “They lived happily ever after” worked for the brothers Grimm, but life in general doesn’t work out that way.
Like life, the ending is going to be influenced by everything that happened before. Cowboys riding off into the sunset became a standard conclusion to a western movie, but it’s not the kind of thing that will make the reader close your book with satisfaction. As the story was unfolding, did you make any promises about what might happen to Wrong-way Joe and his trusty mount?
When Joe takes the left fork instead of the right at the pass, he meets folks and does things he wasn’t expecting when his adventure began. For a typical novel, you want to wrap up any loose threads and give some idea to what happens with the main characters. If the reader cares about them at all, this information will be necessary.
Maybe he met a raven-haired gal with an unerring sense of direction. If you do want them to ride off together into the sunset, she can redirect his courser to the south when Joe accidentally turns north.
But if he kisses her and she turns into a raven, the twist ending shouldn’t exist for the sake of making the reader exclaim “What the nevermore!” That’s the sort of thing that can also make a reader declare, “I will nevermore read that author.”
If there’s going to be a surprise at the end, you must set up the logic to why it happened. Earlier in the story the reader needs to discover something like she is the descendent of a legendary skin-walker in her tribe, and she has an affinity for shiny baubles.
An ending can also be a bit up in the air, and to what degree it is often depends on the length of the story. Readers like having something left to their imaginations to a point, but short compositions lend themselves more to a conclusion that’s barely there.
In the abbreviated version, the tale might end with Raven watching Joe head the wrong way as he leaves her village to (attempt) getting to his original destination. The reader is left wondering if she will set him straight or allow him to wander.
This type of ending also lends itself more to literary works or dilemmas that aren’t earth shattering.
And finally, returning to a novel (or series) length of story, a writer can double-dip on the ending by using an epilogue. This takes place separated from the rest of the tale by time and/or distance, yet it ties to the consequence of that story.
What kind of epilogue could happen with Wrong-way Joe and Raven and his fiery steed? I think I’ll leave that one to your imagination!