Wait? That Was The Ending? A Writing Mini Rant from Scattered Thoughts

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I don’t know how many times lately I have come to the end of a book and then sat back astonished, thinking “wait, that was the ending?”  Usually I am so dumbfounded that I go back a couple of pages and then forward once more, thinking perhaps I missed something  only to find that, nope, the author really did end it that way. Or not end it as the case may be. No epilogue, no afterword, nothing, just a yawning chasm where the ending should be.

Now I know I am not alone in noticing this.  I do read other peoples reviews and they are saying the same thing.   Blah, blah, blah, the book would have been fine except for the ending, or lack of one.  What the heck is going on here?

Writing basics, people.  Stories should have a strong beginning, a strong middle, and a strong ending.  Not once have I ever read that a wimpy, rushed, or just plain non-existent ending is mandatory or even to be desired.  Is this something new in writing I am not aware of?

Now I am not talking about serial stories with the expected and even anticipated cliffhangers.  I am even going to dismiss from this rant those books with dangling plot ends that are a part of a series.  Yes, I know I have whined about a few books in the past that fell in the middle of a series and felt incomplete at the end.  But I am coming around to the authors way of thinking on letting some books in a series have story lines with loose plot threads at the end or even cliffhangers (argh). Those will pull you through to the next story.  Just let us know that the book is a part of a series!  No, I am talking about the stand alone stories that, for whatever reason, have no rational or logical end to them.

I have read books where the main characters just climb into bed (nothing resolved about the future or the angst they went through),  and that’s it.  The end.  I have read books where the author can’t figure out how to end the book, so they rush it, trying to tie up every loose plot thread, and making a ton of unreadable nonsense in the process.  I have read books where the author doesn’t even make the most basic of efforts to tie up anything that has gone before.  Or the worse offender, at least in my mind, the author that takes everything that they had achieved in the story so far and destroys it completely with a ending so forced, so mind-blowingly awful that you can’t believe it’s the same book you just spent all that time reading.  I have even read books where the author put good characters through an intricately planned mystery only to skip out on the denouement or “aha” moment. They might have a secondary character relate the “aha” moment, such a cop out.  Or have a character wake up having “missed out” on all the ruckus.  Well, that leaves the reader missing out too.  Talk about feeling disgruntled and deeply unsatisfied!  Check, please !  We won’t be coming back to that restaurant (or author) anytime soon.

Remember those old movies like Millennium? As the credits roll over the sight of people walking through a portal to a new planet, the letters pop up The End or is it the Beginning?  So cheesy yet some of the books I have read lately make me miss movies like that one.  At least they were trying for something different when ending their story.  I appreciated that even if I laughed about it later.   But even they couldn’t leave well enough alone when it came to the end of the movie.

What is it about writing endings that is so difficult? Most people seem to put all their thoughts and energy into starting their novels and then seem to run out of steam by the time they get to the end.  A few authors have told me that they know where their story is going to end before they write the book.  Others have just the opposite approach, letting the story flow as it wants, uncharted and unknowing.  Neither way guarantees the reader an accomplished ending.   I can’t figure out why I am reading so many bad ones lately.  Has the rise of the eBook let too many authors through the gates that might not otherwise been published? Ah, a rant for another time.

I did run across several websites all bemoaning the same problem in writing endings.  Some of the articles are terrific, laying out pointers on how to write an ending, while some are hysterically unhelpful (kind of like writing an ending).  One Wikihow page includes pictures, like a man with a frowny face, who obviously can’t figure out how to end his story.  Clearly they think pictures will show a writer the way.  Like a sign that stating “The End – This Way” and an arrow beside it.  Oh,  if only it were that simple.

So from me and Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn to you, a few pointers :

  • Don’t cheat and suddenly have everything work out fine. This is lazy and the reader isn’t fooled. For example “And Jesus lived happily ever after”
  • You can surprise the reader but you must also satisfy them. There should be more than one possible ending to a book, so the reader doesn’t just give up as they know what will happen. It’s worth foreshadowing this ending with hints in the rest of the book though so that they are surprised but it is not entirely out of the blue.
  • Some genres have an expected ending that you can’t mess with. If your genre is romance, they have to get together at the end. There’s no getting around this unless you want to change genres! You also need to keep some characters alive if you have a series of books planned.

And from me, always keep in mind the story you started out with at the beginning should still be with you at the end.  Pull it all together in one final, emotionally satisfying product that will keep the readers returning time and again to your craft.   There are reasons you see the same author and same book titles on list after list.  It is because they leave a reader totally satisfied while still wanting more.  More of the story, more of the characters, and more from that author.

So, authors of stories with non-existent or bad endings, I am imploring you.  Find some crit partners, a great editor, take some writing classes, do what you gotta do to hone your writing skills and deliver to us, your readers, a story with all its elements accounted for.  Great strong beginning? Check.  Strong middle that moves your plot forward with great characters and storyline? Check. A strong ending that ties up in a satisfactory and sometimes surprising manner all the plot threads your storyline came with? Check.   Missing a check mark or two? Go back and start over again until someone else, not just you, are happy with the story you have written.

I don’t think this mini rant will in anyway stop the flood of incomplete or poorly  resolved stories.  Think of this as one finger (select one) plugging a hole in a dike that resembles Swiss cheese.  But at least I feel better, hoping to pave the way to better stories one rant at a time.

How do you feel about the books you have been reading?  How many have ended with you thinking, “wait, that was the end?”  Write Scattered Thoughts and tell me your pet peeves about the stories you have read lately.  Help put an end to the ends that leave us gnashing our teeth and pulling out our hair!  I want an ending to leave me cheering, or crying, or satisfied that I spent that time reading that book.  All readers do.  So go, find the path to the perfect The End.  It’s out there, somewhere.  Help it find its way home.  The End.  Or is it the beginning?  Only time and more books will tell.

– Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Links:

The Creative Penn, How To Write The Ending of Your Novel by Joanna Penn

How to Write the End of a Novel by. C. Patrick Schulze

How to Write an End of a Novel: 6 Steps (with Pictures) – wikiHow