Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pending Endings

Have you ever read a story that was well navigated all the way through . . . until you got to the ending? Like it was written by some space alien rather than the person whose name is on the cover? Or like there were fifteen alternate endings brainstormed by a group of people, and the author threw a dart to choose which one to use? Tough luck the dart should stick in the worst possible choice.

I really want to write the best ending ever written. I'm not there yet, but it doesn't stop me from wanting to make sure it's a zinger.

Satisfying is good. But satisfying isn't great unless it's also memorable. I figure memorable is pretty important for a couple of reasons.

First, there are hardly any endings I remember and that bothers me. The one I remember easily, I remember because it was supremely UNsatisfying. Not what I'm going for.

Second, I want my reader to be just as enthralled with my ending as they were with my beginning and middle. I want them to decide I'm an author worth reading again.

In any genre, but especially in suspense, the ending doesn't necessarily have to be happy. But it should make sense and not feel gimmicky or contrived.

Some suspense novelists leave loose ends in hopes (I suspect) that people will run out and buy their next book. I don't like that. There can be relationship questions, but don't leave me with an unfinished story. Even in a series, each book should be able to stand alone.

Here's hoping that when the time comes, I can hone an ending of memorable strength and satisfaction. I don't want it to go on for pages and pages, but neither do I want it to be a couple of sentences strung together that I HOPE people will forget.

What I'm reading: The Overlook by Michael Connelly.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Just my two cents, in case you were looking for it.

    I, too, hate cliffhanger endings. I think you are correct in why they are done, but you know what? If the book was engaging enough, I will buy to read the next one.

    Another pet peeve regarding endings is a book that has a tendency to drag on and on and on to get to the ending and then ends it in 50 words or less. Drives me crazy. Along the same vein, the books that tell the story, the big showdown happens and then it stops. And an epilogue happens 3 months later during the recovery process or whatever happened to the protag.

    So, my vote is don't do these things. Because I know if I think this, I'm not alone.

  2. Peg, thanks for bringing this up. I love endings that resonate. Endings that have just a little twist that I didn't see coming but later realize were masterfully set up from the very beginning of the story. To me, that means the author either did a lot of planning or went back after the manuscript was written and revised intelligently.

    Shannon, you're definitely not alone.

  3. Another thought to add to your great post here...a memorable ending usually brings a message home. (One the author has been weaving through the whole story and now suddenly is there inside you. Not hitting you in the head with a hammer---ending straight in your heart!)
    One of my all-time favorite endings:
    "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known." (Final sentence of A TALE OF TWO CITIES)

  4. Shannon, your comment reminded me of a "cliffhanger" book I'd reviewed. I didn't like being left in the lurch, but guess what? The story has stayed with me so I guess I need to find out what happens next.

    I'm not sure I have the same problem with "Three Months Later" epilogues, but I definitely agree on the endings that drag on and on. End it, for crying out loud!

    Yeah, Susan. That's what I want to write. One of those resonance things. With a smart little twist. Hmmm . . .

    Anna, you've made me want to work doubly hard to write a piercing ending.

    Good thing I have a bit of time to work on all of these.

    Thanks for your great thoughts!