This is going to be a hard post to write without spoiling people. But I wanted to talk about endings, both from a writer’s point of view and a reader’s point of view. I am past two-thirds point in Promising Power, the final book in the Protectors Series. Plus, this year I’ve finished a lot of series I’ve been reading for years. So, I’ve been thinking about endings a lot.
I’m talking about the ending to book one in a series. Not the “To Be Continued” cliffhangers of book two, but The End at the close of a series (or a standalone novel). The finish line. The closing scene. As a reader, what do I think about various endings I’ve read? And as a writer, how can I make sure my series has a satisfying ending?
There are some endings that pay off. There is no other way to describe it. You felt like your time invested in that book, every second, every tear, every laugh, was worth it. Even when you doubted the author or the characters during the read, in the end, you’re happy. Sometimes characters have a happy endings, sometimes they don’t — it’s not about the character’s ending, but the book’s ending. It’s a fragile thing. I have read books where the main character dies at the end, and I was livid. But I’ve read others where the same thing happens, but it’s done so well, I still love the book.
This is the ending we all want for the book we’re reading right now. When we reach the end, we want to put down the book and heave out a satisfied sigh, even if you’re kind of traumatized, as well. This is the ending we want to write, if we’re writers. We want our reader to feel this satisfaction. That’s the best word for it: satisfaction.
In my humble opinion, I have read some really good endings. Others disagree. Others are with me. They’re endings that are sometimes even hopeless for the characters, but I still closed the book and said, “That was a killer ending.” If you trust my judgment (and maybe you shouldn’t), try The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars, 1984, and Chaos Walking series.
If I’m being honest, it’s usually a great book along with an incredible ending that will get a book onto my favorites list. I have a few on there who had just okay endings, but most of them were phenomenal.
I don’t have to describe this, do I? You know those endings. They’re the ones that make you want to throw the book across the room, if you were uncivilized enough to do such a thing. Or, worse, the ones that make you feel like you just wasted a lot of time. The ending didn’t feel natural. It felt like it came out of nowhere. It was like the author was pulling a random assortment of characters and scenes out of hat and saying, “Maybe this one will work! No? Okay, how about this?”
Of course, authors are not doing that. They’re usually trying really hard to give the book a proper ending. One that they feel fits the character and the story. I think if readers think they failed, it’s because the reader had a certain vision for the story, a certain perspective of it, that the author didn’t. Maybe it makes perfect sense to the author that it should happen, it just felt inevitable, but the reader had been reading it a completely different way. Or, unfortunately, what the author was trying to convey might not have been accomplished. Maybe they wrote a different story than they thought they had.
This is an ending that, as a writer, I want to avoid at all costs. I think paying attention to your readers is important. If you see in reviews that they see something completely different than you do, then maybe your ending should go in a different direction than you thought it would.
Fortunately, I have not read too many terrible endings. Maybe I’m easy to please. The next kind, though, oh boy. . .
These are those in between endings. The messy ones. You’re not sure what to think about them. You put the book down and say, “Huh?” You look online to make sure you weren’t the only one. Or the first time it left a bad taste in your mouth, but for whatever reason, you decide to read it again, and it’s okay the second time around.
One ending I’ve seen a lot, especially in YA: the easy ending. It’s a good ending, in theory, a happy ending, for the characters, but there was no sacrifice. The characters just walked through the fiery pits of despair and defeated the bad guy without a scratch. They overcame all their obstacles and no one died and it was all rainbows and puppies!
Look, I hate seeing characters suffer as much as the next person, but come on! At the core of fiction is conflict. It’s the backbone of the story, and it needs to be there the whole time, even if it’s way more intense in some spots than others.
These endings are way more common, at least in the books that I read, than the bad endings. They’re ones that make me forget the story a few months later. They’re the ones that make me give 3-star reviews or just shrug when someone asks what I thought about the book.
From a writer’s perspective, that might be worse than a furious reader. At least an upset reader cared about what happened. The “meh” reader of the ugly ending will forget about my story and my characters as though she never read them. Yikes.
What do you think? What are some endings you LOVED? If you tell us endings you hated, include a spoiler warning! Don’t be that guy.
Emily Ann Ward is the author of Finding Fiona, Le Garde series, and The Protectors series. One of her first stories featured a young girl whose doll came to life. The rest is history. Aside from writing, she loves traveling and she’s the managing editor of the Rush line for Entranced Publishing. Currently, she lives in Oregon with her husband Chris and their cats. Visit her website at http://emilyannward.com