Where Does It All End?
No, no, not the Hugo awards cat fight. That’s going to take years.
No, I mean, where do you end a story?
Here your characters are, they just won the big battle, so story over. The end.
“What!” Cries from outraged readers fly from all directions. “What did they do then?” “Did they just shake hands and everyone went their own way? Did they take over or just go home?” “Which guy did Princess Pink choose?” “And did Shy Guy ever get up the nerve to ask Geek Girl out?” “Did he kiss her?” “And what about the authorities?” “All this titanic battle all over their city, surely there were some questions being asked, right?”
Ending a story badly is almost as bad as starting one badly. Neither is likely to induce the reader to rush to the book store and buy the next book.
Oh, a little abruptly is forgivable, but an ending that the reader really doesn’t like? There is a difference between the reader throwing the book against the wall because he wants more, and throwing the book against the wall because the ending was a horrible let down.
There was a trend in British mysteries (my other addiction) a few years back, where some sympathetic character had to be killed at the end. It felt like a publisher’s demand—Dick Francis in _Shattered_ just pasted in a policeman to kill at the end. No relevance to the story, just someone to kill for an appropriate downer ending. Marsha Grimes in _The Grave Maurice_. Okay, the whole story was a bit squicky but instead of having the girl win and save the horses, she killed her. There’s an author who went instantly from “buy in hardback” to “Oh, not quite ready to try another one of hers, yet” for, let’s see, the copyright date is 2002? Going on thirteen years.
Do. Not. Break. The. Reader’s. Trust.
Most writers avoid the really bad endings. But these occasional fits of Ahtistry and thinking that there’s something inherently sinful about a happy ending can break out without warning.
Oh, you have a series, and the Main Character can’t possibly get all tangled up with a permanent squeeze, or worse yet a spouse? Trust me, at a bare minimum, kill the spouse at the start of the next book, not the end of this one. Better yet get him/her kidnapped and go rescue her. Yeah, yeah, trite overused cliché. If worse comes to worse, she/he can’t bear the danger and walks away. Or a screaming, throwing stuff break up. Anything except “and then she died.”
Let’s see, what other endings annoy me? Umm, insufficient tying up of a reasonable number of loose threads? It’s sloppy, but so long as you solved the main story problem, and hinted toward the solution of the other important ones, we readers will be happy enough to buy your next book.
Starting a new problem at the end of the book, to deliberately create a cliff hanger. You just can’t do that with books that come out a year apart. If the mechanics of the book force you to stop at a cliff hanger for some of the threads, please have the sequel ready to go in a few months. Please? Okay, that’s not fair for traditionally published authors. You have very little control over publishing dates. But do try to not keep the fans waiting so long that they give up on you in frustration. A cliff hanger comes with an implicit “You’ll find out real soon.”
And then there’s those endings that didn’t get any foreshadowing. They feel like the writer cheated. Painted themselves into a corner and . . . then a miracle occurred. That only works if the world is known to have miracles, and better yet, if the Main Character pulled the thorn out of the god’s paw early in the book and earned a miracle, that he just called in. If about a quarter of your beta readers roll their eyes and say they saw that coming from the second chapter, you’ve got it about right.
And then there are the endings that go on and on. Lord of the Rings. Loved the books, loved the movies. But the trilogy aftermath just dribbled on forevah.
Someone, probably Sarah, said once that the readers needed a cookie at the end. Give them something to make them happy. It’s advice I try to follow. Still learning.
This one’s got a good cookie. I think. :