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« What Keeps You Going? | Main | Endings: Happily Ever After or Not So Much... »

Endings: How To Prevent Reader Rage


Day 346 / 365 - All The Rage
Photo by Jason Rogers (click pic for link)
Yesterday we talked about the type of endings you could choose for your story. Today, I want to look at what things to avoid so you don't have readers chucking your book against the wall or using it for kindling when they finish it.
Let's take a look at some common ending mistakes according to Edward Patterson.
1. Anti-climax
How to recognize it: This is the ending that when you reach it, you really don't care anymore. You're not surprised, excited, or invested.
What went wrong: This happens when the story peaked too soon in the book. The big, exciting, conflict-resolving moment was chapters ago. The only reason there is a story to begin with is the conflict, once it's resolved, you're done. It's okay to have a "afterglow"/denouement chapter, but don't drag it out.
How to fix it: Move the conflict resolution closer to the end. Or if you've resolved, say, the external conflict (yay, they've saved the world!) make sure you haven't settled the internal conflict yet. (They saved the world, but the MC still hasn't expressed her true feelings for hero, etc.) Give your reader a reason to keep reading.
2. Runaway Train
How to recognize it: This is where things are building up, but then toward the end, the pacing goes out of control and the wrap up feels rushed. "Wait, it's over?"

What went wrong: Sometimes this is because you, as a writer, are ready to "get 'er done" after writing the whole book, so you rush through it. Other times, this is because you didn't begin with your end in mind. You should be building toward your ending the entire time so that it's not abrupt and slapped on at the end.
How to fix it: Know what your ending is going to be so that you can work toward it throughout the book. As I mentioned in one of my beginnings post, even your first few pages should hint at the end. By the middle of the book, you should be starting to end it.
3. Contrived Endings
How to recognize it: This ending makes you say, "Seriously? Yeah, right." Everything falls into place in crazy coincidences, characters make decisions that don't make sense, etc.

What went wrong: This can happen if you are too tied to the ending you originally envisioned. Yes, you should know where you're going when you write, but usually your characters take over at some point and guide your story, requiring changes. An ending may feel contrived because it no longer matches what your characters and stories have developed into.

How to fix it: Know how you want to end your story, but change things organically as your characters and story grow and develop. Make sure the actions of your characters at the end are properly motivated throughout the book. And do not rely on coincidences to fix the conflicts in your story.
4. Dribble Out Endings
How to recognize it: This is the ending that isn't an ending at all. The story just sort of fades away and you're left wondering..."wait, what?" These are sometimes meant for the reader to be left pondering (similar to the 'things that make you say hmm" ending of yesterday) but it has no impact and falls flat. I loathe books and movies that do this.

What went wrong: The author avoided writing an ending or failed in an attempt to be profound.
How to fix it: Do not take your reader on a ride with you only to abandon them at the end. Give them something to take away--a conclusion, a lesson, something.
 5. An Epilogue is Not an Ending
Some people love epilogues and some hate them. However, if you do decide to include one, realize that it is not the ending. It is the afterglow. Your ending needs to be impactful and climactic and satisfying. The epilogue is meant to be the cuddle time after the big moment so that you can mellow after that ending high.

Have you found yourself falling into any of these traps? Or, have you read any books that have committed one of these sins? When you start writing your stories, do you have the end in mind?

**Today's Theme Song**

"It's the End of the World As We Know It" - R.E.M
(player in sidebar if you'd like a listen)


Reader Comments (25)

Oh I hate number 3, truly hate them.
As for endings, I like one sort, my friend likes one sort, and there is the reason why I do not like books she like ;)

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBlodeuedd

#4 drives me crazy! Ugh! Great post, as always, Roni. I feel like I learn something new from you every day.

LOVE the picture! ;-)

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon O'Donnell

This is the very issue I'm freaking out about, at this very moment! You've given me a lot to ponder. Thanks!

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjbchicoine

I really don't get mad at book endings BUT...
I read a suspense book recently that made me mad.
The suspense was great. Then, at the end when I expected a big finish, it all turned out to be a misunderstanding. A MISUNDERSTANDING???!!!!!
I honestly thought stuff like that only happened in unpublished books. I felt like I was strung along for nothing. Grrr...

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Shirk

I think I may have done the runaway train, but I also know that pacing should increase as you reach the climax. So, I'm not really sure. Great post! As always, you rock, Roni!

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTina Lynn

Great post! Number four is the one that drives me bananas. Boo! Don't make me go hmmm, make me go, "Great book!"

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Paz

I'm guilty of number 2! Thanks fro this post. Great advice!

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterquixotic

I think it's the Runaway Train that really gets my goat!

Thanks for a fun and informative post!

PS, I hate epilogues. lol

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTere Kirkland

I wrote an ending that was logical to the story - the lovers separated and went their separate ways - and my mom read it and then wouldn't talk to me for a whole week!

I like all the information here and will keep it in mind. Thanks!

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSuzette Saxton

Yep, I always have an end in mind. Often the end is what inspires me to take the journey.

much love

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstaceyjwarner

I'm having issues with my ending because I want to include an epilogue to tell what happened to Hatshepsut after her death. But it certainly doesn't feel like a warm cuddly epilogue.


December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Thornton

I don't mind epilogues. But really I have read so few books that had them that I can't think of any but one--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was nice to get a glimpse into the future to see how the characters had changed.

Great post!

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie L. McGee

Man! Sometimes I have NO clue what my ending's going to be! I've read a few books like these, and honestly, they've severely disappointed me. Unfortunately, if the story doesn't pick up in the first couple of chapters, I completely lose interest.

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

In the anti-climax ending, you say that the problem is that the story peaked too soon and the resolution to the climax already happened. I agree this is a bad thing. However, I think there are two things to add here: One, you should be resolving the INTERNAL conflict in the big resolution chapter. The internal conflict is the deeper problem of your character...the one the book is REALLY about solving. Then you can resolve the external problem in the end chapter, and you haven't lost anything.

Two: Oh, I didn't have a two. I peaked at one. See how annoying that is!

Great post, Roni.

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSierra Godfrey

I can't wait to refer back to this post when I write my ending.

I do have an end point in mind, but I am not allowing myself to put it down on paper until I am a little further in, word wise.

I'm going to make myself earn it. :)

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Tidd Murphy

grr the dribble endings makes me furious!

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShelli

OOPS! Had a typo on previous post.. deleted & re-posted.

Hi There,

I love your post, so much that I tweeted it! Clear, concise and very helpful.

I have read lots of articles, etc. on what's wrong with writing and on what not to do, but very few articles outline succinctly how to fix the mistakes.

Pacing is one of the challenges I have to get a handle on as I work my way through the nest manuscrit. Your suggestions are very helpful and I''l re-read my MS with your ideas in mind.

Thanks, Jill
"Blood and Groom" is now in stores!

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill Edmondson

I always have trouble with my endings because I can't decide 'exactly' how I want it to end. I always seem to have a couple different ways to do it and I need to just pick one, darn it!!
Excellent post, very thought-provoking.

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Blod, I have a friend like that too, we have opposite tastes in books.

Shannon, thanks! I'm glad you found it helpful.

JB, good luck! Don't freak out. :)

Jennifer, that stinks. I don't get angry often with books, but when the end lets me down, ooh that gets to me.

Tina, thanks, and I agree, the runaway train is my tendency as well.

Diana, totally agree!

Quix, you and me both.

Tere, I don't mind an epilogue if it's done well, but many times they aren't necessary.

Suzette, lol, that's funny. At least that means you stirred up emotion with your story!

Stacey, that's a smart way to go about it.

Steph T., the epilogue doesn't have to be warm and fuzzy (I read lots of romance, so that's what I tend to see more of because of the genre), but with yours being based on a historical figure, you have to be true to the story.

Steph M., yeah I don't see a lot of them either except for the occasional one in romances.

Oddy, I usually have my ending in mind, but then it almost always changes once I'm writing.

SIerra, lol, love your second point. And I think it can work either way--internal first or external first (or both simultaneously) as long as your pacing is right.

Amber, I like the idea of earning your ending. :)

Shelli, for sure, so annoying.

Jill, thanks for stopping by the blog and for the retweet!

Julie, that's how I was with my YA. I jumped between so many different options for endings and changed the darn thing three times.

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

I read a very famous book not to long ago - one everyone raves about - that had me hating it by page 50. It was like, 800 pages long, and naturally, the ending was anti climax. And then drug on and on. Info dump, the whole story.

(shakes it off)

I almost always start with an ending. Then I work backwards towards a start, and fill in the middle with details. Wierd, I know. Avoids those run-away-train endings definitely.

My first novel has a climax, a true ending, but I did add an epilogue to set up the next novel in the trilogy. Hmm, I guess I did that with the 2nd novel also.

What do you think: is that the proper use of an epilogue, or is it just the writer wanting to keep the story going on?


December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDonna Hole

I'm pretty sure I ended my master's thesis with the epilogue failure." rel="nofollow">-Joshua

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

What a great list of ending issues. Very comprehensive. So thorough and easy to understand. You've reminded of some things to consider on my current rewrite. Thanks, Roni!

December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Greci

Oh, this is fabulous! Thank you, Roni, for introducing us to the specific names for all of these endings and the solutions. It's good stuff to keep in mind.

December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWeronika Janczuk

Not sure. I hope not. I'll be thinking about this, though.

December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan R. Mills

Okay, so I was going to work on my ending, but I saw you had another post on endings that I missed. How irresponsible would I be if I skipped a post called "Endings: How to Prevent Reader Rage" so I could work on my ending?!

This is another great post--I love the way you sum things up. A few years back, my son and I read a book that had this tiny climax after a beautiful build up. We actually stopped to discuss how disappointed we were. We were like, that was it?! I hope I never do that...MUST NEVER DO THAT!

December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDawn Simon

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