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« Endings: How To Prevent Reader Rage | Main | Face Off Friday: YA Lit and Sex* »
Wednesday
Dec022009

Endings: Happily Ever After or Not So Much...

 

We all want to know, how it ends.
Have you ever read a book that you loved the whole way through, then you reach the ending and the author totally blows it? I've talked a good bit about beginnings and first chapters (here, here, here, here and here.) because that's what hooks your readers/agents/publishers, but endings are just as vital. I don't care how much I loved a book, if the author lets me down at the end--that is the lasting impression, that determines whether or not I go out and buy another book by that author. (Thanks to CKHB, btw, for suggesting this post topic.)
I have to admit, I struggle with endings. I go through this whole process of writing a book then when I get to the end I'm like, uh, hmm, well--even when I know how I want it to wrap up. I enjoy writing the journey much more than the destination. So this is definitely an area I am working on.

First, let's look at some common ending options:
1. Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now
--This is the most common ending, especially in romance.
--When I pick up a Harlequin, I know that no matter what crap the characters have to go through, they will be together in the end. It's the same with romantic comedy movies--you know when you go see them what the end will be, you're just not sure how they are going to get there. It seems like knowing the ending would ruin the process, but it doesn't--we enjoy the journey.
--And be careful setting up this expectation then pulling the rug out from under your reader. As with any rule, it can be broken, but be careful having a happy lighthearted novel then at the end you decimate every relationship or good thing.
2. Sad Ending
--These are trickier, in my opinion. Some people like to cry with their books (*waves at Oprah*), but you don't want to end sadly with no kind of resolution or lesson.
--Give the reader something to walk away with. In Titanic, it's horrible that sexy Leo dies, I ugly-cried in the theatre, BUT I was left with the sense of the undying power of love and how someone who we meet only briefly can touch our lives forever.
--This kind of ending also works when the only logical place for the story to go is down the sad road. If you're writing a story about the Holocaust, you probably aren't going to be able to wrap it up with balloons and sunshine. (And your readers won't expect you to).
3. The Cliffhanger
--These are only okay if you are planning a series, in my opinion. Nothing with piss me off more than a book ending with no wrap-up and no next book. That will ruin me on an author.
--Even if you are setting up for the next book, make sure that you have some resolution with some of your story threads so that your reader has some sense of satisfaction (along with a desire to know more on the unresolved ones.)
--These can be very effective, as I mentioned in my review yesterday. The cliffhanger is the only thing that's going to get me to buy the next book. I also just finished the first four books of The Vampire Diaries and LJ Smith is great at the cliffhanger. I read all four books in about three days because of those darn cliffhangers.
4. The "Things That Make You Say Hmm" Ending (yeah, I just pulled out that old school reference)
--These endings are more common in literary fiction than genre fiction.
--This ending leaves you with something to think and ponder on. If someone were to ask you what you thought of the book right after finishing it, you'd probably say "I'm not sure yet."
--Sometimes books with these endings provide a profound experience, other times it's just frustrating, so it has to be done artfully.
In my YA, I struggled with the ending, rewriting it at least three times. I started out with HEA, then changed it to a sad ending + cliffhanger, and now it's a happy for now (with the romance thread) and a cliffhanger with the external plot. My adult romance was always a HEA, but it still was difficult to write and make it feel fully satisfying and not rushed.
Alright, so those are some of the options for endings. Tomorrow I will cover what to do and not to do when creating your ending along with some tips of how to come up with the direction you want to go in.
So do you find beginnings or endings harder? Which types of endings do you prefer to write or read? Have you ever read a book that you loved the journey but loathed the ending? How do you feel about cliffhanger endings?

 

**Today's Theme Song**

"It Ends Tonight" - All-American Rejects
(player in sidebar if you'd like a listen)

 

 

Reader Comments (31)

I struggle with endings, because I hate to have everything tied up in a nice little bow at the end of the story, but I also don't want to leave my readers completely devistated, either.

I like the "things that make you say hmm" option, myself. I like to both read AND write those endings.

Honestly, the middle is the hardest part for me. The start and the finish are the fun.

I think cliffhanger endings are a bit frustrating, especially if there is no sequel. It's like a television show being cancelled abruptly. Disturbing.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Tidd Murphy

Great post, Roni! The middles are definitely a struggle for me. But I have to say that since I haven't hit the ending on my current novel. I've hit "The End" on short stories but I just let those run their course. I didn't consciously look at where it needed to end. It just came.

But I'm definitely going to have to do a cliffhanger ending for this current WiP as it's the first of a trilogy. Things will have to end, but other things will have to dangle in the universe until the next book gets written.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie L. McGee

I love writing an ending with a HEA but I like to make the reader wonder if it really is gonna end that way. In Spellbound, the second last chapter ends with my couple not together. The last chapter flashes forward a month or so and the reader has a couple pages to wonder if they got it together in the end!

I finished the 3rd book in a series a few weeks ago and I was left far from satisfied. Yes it's a series and it had to leave you wanting more but this was too much. It left a major plotline wide open. I walked away from the book feeling like the author did this as a marketing ploy and I don't think readers should feel that way when they finish a book. Of course I need to read the next one (when she finishes it)...I'm way too invested in the series to give up now.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I love happy endings, and endings that leave you thinking. The cliffhanger is all right as long as the author has wrapped it up enough to leave me with the feeling that I've read an actual story from beginning to end.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeb@RGRamblings

I'm adding this comment from Josh because he had to email it to me since his work computer blocks the comment feature on my posts. So here is his comment.

I wanted to say that I am 100% in favor of a good ending. Case in point: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. I just read this two weekends ago (289 pages in 3 hours) and posted a mini review -- complete with spoiler alert section -- two Tuesdays ago (http://techparent42.blogspot.com/2009/11/top-five-tuesdays-books-made-into.html). I've started a regular thing called Top Five Tuesdays, but if you're interested in reading the review, it's about half-way down the post. Anyway, get to the point. The book as a whole was brilliantly written with intense and evocative language, but the end just kind of fizzled. It was like the ending of the "No Country For Old Men" movie (also written by McCarthy) where the sheriff has retired and he's just talking about a dream he had. Then it ends. "The Road" was like that, too, but not nearly as disappointing as "Country." There's all this building up and building up and then just, "Hmm...that was wierd." Again, overall it was fantastic; even the end when you think about the meaning (hope, etc.). The problem with the end is that I didn't feel lifted (read: hopeful) or even burdened (read: like the rest of the book); I just felt, dare I say, a little let down. At least I didn't feel like the rug was pulled out from under me. That would have undermined the entire journey.

Okay, that said, I just wanted to respond to the post since I find endings just as important, if not more important than the hook at the beginning. While there's something to be said for the "leave them wanting more" mentality, a true ending should not destroy your reader's faith in you as a storyteller.

Thanks.

--

-Joshua

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

I don't have a real favorite as far as endings are concerned. As long as the author does a good job of keeping me in the story and the ending makes sense, I'm okay with anything. I haven't reached the end yet with my WIP, but the middle part is really getting hard to work on.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermelane

My biggest issue with endings has always been abruptness. I like books that resolve the conflict (or not if its not resolvable) and then continue with a little bit more. If the took characters finally fell in love then show them in a scene later happy and well.

I read several books as a teen (maybe 15) by an author that writes about teens with terminal illness. All her books are sad but in one I remember well the girls boyfriend battles cancer and he does eventually die.

I cried a lot. But then a couple months pass and she finds a note from him telling her to go sit in the very top row of the bleachers by the football field at the end of April. She sit down at looks out and realizes the field is covered in flowers and they spell "I love you"

This was one of my favorite endings ever and I totally didn't want the guy to die, but somehow the author tricked me into feeling happy at the end of the book.

Sometimes a mix of what you suggested is possible but something has to be either happy or sad because everything in the middle would just be so-so and a big let down.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

My favorite ending is the one that keeps me thinking long after, the hmmm endings. I still think about Life of Pi. I want answers, man!

That said, I also like endings to give me closure. I'm with you- if an ending is lame I'm not going to buy anything else from that author.

I think I have my beginning nailed right now, but I'm still fine tuning the ending. They both have to be perfect so it's taking a lot of work.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Thornton

For me beginnings are harder to write.

I love happy endings, the picture of complete characters that have learned from their mistakes and are a heap better. If a romance thread was laced in the book, I would love to see the two in question hook up.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTamika:

LOL, I like an "as happy as it can be under the circumstances" type ending. Like the bad guy is dead, but everyone is covered in blood and possibly really wounded.

In other news, I can't stop singing C&C Music Factory in my head. Hmm.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTere Kirkland

I like all endings EXCEPT the cliff-hanger. I think that type of ending is totally unfair to the reader, no matter what! I don't care if you have a book two coming out in a year. Give us closure. My agent has said the same thing. Wrap it all up, no teasers, no cliff-hangers. You have to solve the conflict in your book... whether happily, traumatically, or in that hmmm sort of way. But no cliff-hangers! Just don't ask me for any examples. I don't want to offend anyone!

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBethany Wiggins

I have a lot more trouble with writing beginnings. I typically just start writing the story, and I brood on how the story should actually start the whole way through the book. Then I go back and write the beginning.

Endings - I like them tidy and, usually, happy.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Sunseri

Endings are the hardest part for me, an area I tend to struggle to get just right.

When I'm reading, I don't really care which type of ending it is as long as the book feels finished. I don't want to be left wondering, "Where's the rest"..."But what about"..."What did they"...you get the picture! ;-)

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon O'Donnell

I think endings are even more important than beginnings. I'll keep reading a book even if the beginning is strong, but I'll never read the author again or recommend the book to a friend if the ending is crappy. I've also changed my ending three times. Happy, Sad, Cliffhanger. Not sure which one will stick. It largely depends on whether or not I write a sequel. Speaking of endings, I'd really like to read the ending of Shadow Falls. :)

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan R. Mills

I am a happy ending kind of girl, but I do love cliffhangers when done right. Catching Fire had a shameless cliffhanger ending, but I loved the book! Loved it!

Another kind of ending I have seen is in Janette Rallison's book Just One Wish. I can't give anything away, but read it! Seriously. It was so beautiful.

I write happy endings. Period. I'm not in this to make people think or to make them hate me. If they cry, it won't be at the end. I like Jane Austen's line in becoming Jane. I can't quote it word for word, but she basically said that every ending would be a happy one. This is a case where art doesn't exactly imitate life. I project what I would want to happen into my writing.

Great post, Roni!

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTina Lynn

I write romance so happy endings are sort of required. This was a beautifully written post. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day.

I like all four ending types. I'm working on a HEA and a 'making you say hmmm,' ending.
Good post, btw.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjbchicoine

There's nothing worse than a lame ending to a good book. Hateful endings include: the big fizzle, cliffhangers, characters that don't learn anything, out of the blue resolution, and no closure! It's not fair to take readers on a journey and leave them feeling empty.

I can absolutely love reading a book, but if the ending is out of place, it sours it for me. I don't recommmend books with lousy endings to friends so I can save them the frustration.

I love the ending of the novel I'm querying. It has a twist, a pinch of bittersweet and a dash of hope. It wasn't the ending I had planned, but as I wrote, it became apparent that it wasn't going to end the way I anticipated, and it turned out great! I haven't written enough to know what comes easiest for me, but I'm going to say that (good) beginnings are hard. Ideas are easy to come by, but setting them up properly is tricky for me.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTracy

I find beginnings much harder than endings because endings are usually the most exciting part. I always have to check and make sure I don't rush right to the ending I have in mind. I find it hard to wrap it up, yeah, but I usually find a way around that, and if I don't like it, its surprising how hard it is to find a different angle to go with.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

I'm not sure what my favorite ending is, it depends on the story but I want the ending to fit the story and I believe clues are left throughout to let the reader know.

much love

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstaceyjwarner

I stress more about the ending than the beginning. I'll look forward to the next post. :]

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTara McClendon

Thanks, Roni.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Great post as always. I'm a big fan of sad endings when they're done well - the way you described your feelings after "Titanic" is exactly how I felt when the movie ended. I'm the kind of reader who wants a little bit of meaning at the end of the story, a message that leaves me thinking. When writing, I worry much more about the ending as a result.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Dao

I like a good ending. It doesn't have to be totally HEA, but something good. I'm also a fan of what you call things that make you go hmmm, but I read a lot of lit fic where that's more the expectation. I have an awfully hard time with beginnings. The first 1/2 of my books are always a mess and rewritten a million times. I'll have to check out your blog posts on beginnings!

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenniferWalkup

"The Return of the King" is the best ending of a book ever, period. There is a wonderful, long, satisfying "wrapping up" of the all the loose threads of the story.

The movie ending stunk.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristine H

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