Hold ‘Em Until the End: Why NOT to Neglect the Ending

My favorite part of a book is the ending. If it’s good enough, if it satisfies me as a reader because it ties up all the loose ends, offers explanations, the happily ever after, or at least real resolution, then I’m a happy reader. A stellar ending has made me forgive other frustrations throughout a book, sticks with me, and is what will make me buy the next book by that author.

But sometimes the ending isn’t like that. Sometimes it’s terrible.

I was thinking about endings today for several reasons, including that I hope to complete the rough draft of a WIP this week, and because I just finished reading a book that had been very enjoyable … up until the ending. And it made me think: how are we, as writers, influenced by what we like and dislike as readers?

This book – by an author I respect and enjoy – ended in such a way that a) there were too many questions left unanswered from this plot, let alone the series, and b) it was so unmemorable, I couldn’t even remember if I had read to the end and was perhaps mistaken (yes, I checked – apparently it was just that unremarkable). Why would you do that to your book and your readers? Why, oh, why?

What does a good ending need (according to me)?

First, you need to hit the climax / dark moment, and really see the characters suffer. If they don’t suffer enough – or really seem that they have overcome and really made changes throughout their journey, what’s the point?

Second, you need emotional impact. Whether this arrives first in the suffering of the protagonist(s) through their dark point, the difficult decision they will be faced with, or is heavier in the cathartic period after the dark moment when they survive and are forever changed, I don’t mind which (though both is better). But really, as a reader, I want this reward at the end of the book, my “cookie” if you will.

Third, tie up all the loose ends, answer all the questions. Yes, I understand that not every question will be answered – especially if there are some raised that are part of the series arc – but if, say, you’ve had two people magically similar and somehow connected in some mystical way, as a reader, I wanted to know why: I’m not happy when I’m not given the answer. So please, even if you raised the questions to raise the stakes and conflict, ANSWER THEM!

Finally, provide resolution and denouement. I confess I’m one of those who’s a sucker for the epilogue, but a good ending doesn’t always require one. Don’t, however, rush simply from the climax to “The End”; it feels like the author reached the word count cut-off and just typed the last chapter without enough thought to real resolution and catharsis. I think this is especially true in romance, or if you follow “The Hero’s Journey” route – you need to circle back and go home. Or at least start the trip home and some hint of what’s going to happen, of the new order that’s been established, perhaps at the future if it’s a series, but this resolution IS the heart of the ending, and without it … well, a reader like me starts to wonder why she read the book in the first place – and I certainly won’t be picking up another.

Anyway, that’s just me and my soapbox on endings. What do you think? How important are they? Do you try to incorporate these kind of things into your writing? How do you react to dissatisfying endings of a book? Do comment below.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.


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