Monday, November 02, 2009

And so the story ends

Patty here…

On Sunday morning, I finished reading a novel, the latest in a series written by Author X. I don’t usually read during the day, especially in the morning because I don’t have time. However, the night before, X brought me to the precipice of the climatic ending with an appropriately compelling last sentence hook. Other readers might have finished post haste but I was tired and decided to save the fun for the next day.

As I mentioned, I cracked open the book on Sunday and began reading. Much to my dismay, the climax to which I’d sacrificed my morning wasn’t there. Instead, the author was already leading me through the wrap-up phase of the book, leaving only a scant few lines about what should have been a whole scene of delicious mayhem. Needless to say, I felt just a teeny tiny bit cheated.

I've always been told that the first rule of writing (I know. I know. There are no rules) is that an author should always play out conflict not describe it in exposition. That got me wondering why this author chose to shelter us readers from experiencing the excitement. Could the publisher not afford the extra paper? Was X’s manuscript past deadline and they said, “Just give us what you have and we’ll run with it.” Or maybe X told them, “Screw it. I’m so done with this book.”

Ending a novel is difficult, and some authors pull it off better than others do. Endings don’t need to follow a formula, but they should be satisfying to the reader. Here are a few types of endings I've noticed lately:

The abrupt ending

The noirish fade to black ending

The explosion ending

And now, the missing ending

Have you ever been disappointed by a book’s ending? How could the author have done it better?

Curious Monday!


  1. The most disappointing ending I remember is "The DaVinci Code". I was really enjoying the story - I thought it was thought provoking and well-paced. And then I got to the last 75 - 100 pages, and it was like reading a different book. The characters got stupid, everything stopped making sense - it was horribly annoying. But by then I wanted badly enough to know what happened, that I kept reading.

    Gak ;-)

  2. Hey, Rae, I've missed your Gaks! And wow, did you read Angels and Demons? That ending was so over-the-top I almost laughed, especially the film version. However, like you, I kept reading.

  3. I don't like abrupt endings. After spending the better part of 400 pages invested in the characters (hopefully) I want to know what happens to all of them.


  4. I think I've committed the crimes of each one of those endings, Patty, but thanks to the advice of early readers (in one case the venerable and rarely wrong Lee Child) managed to salvage them.

  5. What's worse than an abrupt or unsatisfying ending?.....a horrible middle, when the main character does something so stupid and "out of character" for a plot twist. ARRRRGGGGG!!!!! I can imagine that writing is terribly difficult...I know that I could not do it, but still, the pros should know better. Thanks for letting me vent...:-)

  6. That's what we're hear for--venting. Have at it. I don't mind any sort of ending as long as it works.

  7. The literally deus ex machina ending of THE STAND. I loved that book up till that moment.

  8. James O. Born11/02/2009 2:47 PM

    Attack on America by Phillip Roth.
    It seemed like he got tird of writing it in the last twenty pages and sort of summarized the interesting story in a letter or synopsis.

    Good post, as always, Patty.


  9. Thanks for that, Dusty.

    BTW, I just read James O's award winning short story "The Drought," and it's great. It's in the anthology BLUE RELIGION edit by Michael Connelly.

  10. I don't want to name names, but I read a debut novel by someone who's getting a lot of good press, and I have to say that I thought hers was a grand book right up until the last chapter, when everything was wrapped up with a tidy little bow, defying any sort of logic.

    Frustrated the snot out of me.

    I don't mind everything not being wrapped up at the end of a book if I think/believe it'll get dealt with in the sequel. But to just plop everything down in the last chapter with a "and they lived happily ever after" sort of vibe, especially in an edgy mystery, is just. . .wrong. Or lazy.

    Thus endeth the rant. Thanks for letting me vent!

  11. Fran, I agree, that's lazy writing. It almost seems like the author just gave up.

  12. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver just petered out, which was so disappointing after Poisonwood Bible being one the best books I'd ever read (not to mention that the first 7/8 of Prodigal were pretty good)...

    I GET that personal journeys don't necessarily wind up with big ACTION but at least the character should have some sort of epiphany.

    I think writers who don't plan their endings from the start need to resign themselves to rewrites so the ending goes with the rest of the book (and I think editors should hold them to that, no matter HOW good the rest of it)

  13. Dear Author !
    I thank for very valuable information. It very much was useful to me.