Endings

A couple interesting blog posts today have me thinking about endings. First Stuart Stockton over at Speculative Faith wrote “Can you find victory in defeat?” an article pondering whether or not a story needs to end with either complete triumph or complete failure. Might there not be some sort of mixed bag for our protagonist?

The second post was by Jonathan Rogers (author of The Charlatan’s Boy, the upcoming CSFF Blog Tour feature) about sad books—favorite sad books, no less.

As I am coming down the home stretch in my own writing, and work to pull things together in The Lore of Efrathah, I can’t help but take these thoughts into consideration.

Do we remember, even treasure, happy-ending books more so than sad, or is the reverse true? Perhaps, as Stuart suggests, we prefer endings that are some combination of mission accomplished and mission doomed. After all, isn’t that closer to real life?

But do we want our art to reflect our culture as is or our dreams of what we hope to become?

Perhaps readers are all different. Or readers on some days want a certain ending and on other days a different kind all together.

So I’m wondering. Is there a perfect ending? And if so, is it one that makes you cry, cringe, laugh, grimace, or hug the book to you and sigh.

Does the perfect end make you want to race to the book store, the library, or an on-line store to find another story by the same author? Or does the perfect end make you want to savor the book, turn to the author bio or the acknowledgments, or even the back cover copy—anything just to keep you in the book for a few moments longer.

Does the perfect ending make you want to hear from the main character again, or are you content to remember him/her as is? Does the perfect end haunt your dreams or suggest alternatives to your mind? Or is the perfect end perfect because it’s exactly how you would bring the story to its conclusion?

Is an ending perfect because it surprises? Or because it fulfills expectations?

Does the perfect end wrap up all the loose ends, or are a few danglers better?

I have LOTS of questions, my friends. Tell me what you think about the ending of books. This inquiring mind wants to know. 😉

8 Comments

  1. To me, a book has the perfect ending when I set it down, sigh, and say, “That was awesome! I’m going to miss that character.” Then I want to find the next book by the author, or the next in the series.

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  2. For me, there is no single “perfect ending”; there can be a “perfect ending” to a particular book, but it’s something that wouldn’t work in another book. Pretty much any of the “symptoms” you mentioned can be perfect for some good book (especially the “moremoremoremoremore nownownownownow” reaction for the first or second volume of a series), except for the one about thinking through possible alternate storylines. (I follow fan fiction for four fandoms somewhat closely: one because the original is so brilliant and the few fan authors I’ve read have been excellent, a second because there’s one unsatisfying note in the ending, a third because I’d rather skip the lengthy romantic tension in the book and get to the happily-ever-after via a shortcut, and a fourth because the early books got me to care about the characters and then the last several books absolutely ruined them.) I don’t like sad endings very much, but that’s because I don’t much like sad books.

    To sum it up somewhat more succinctly, just as a duck-billed platypus is “good,” an ostrich is “good,” and an elephant is “good,” but each would not be “good” in the place of any of the others, a book’s ending is “perfect” if it is “perfect” for that book.

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  3. Endings have to be deserved. If I don’t believe that the ending fits the book, then it has the potential to ruin the story for me.

    Ditto for film. That includes sticking happy endings on characters who by all rights should be dead, and sticking sad/tragic endings on characters who by all rights should have lived. 😉

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  4. I agree with Jenni. Whether happy, sad, or something else, an ending ought to be earned. My friend Pete Peterson talks about how he conceived the ending of his Fiddler’s Gun/Fiddler’s Green novels and then went to work earning that ending. That’s right on.

    I like sad books that end happily…but only if that happy ending grows out of the sadness–and isn’t applied like an antacid to neutralize the sadness.

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  5. I think it depends on whether it’s the end of a book or a series. If it’s the final book in a series, it should wrap up everything and not leave me wanting more. Either way, I guess my perfect ending is when I close the book, shut my eyes, and just savor the feeling of finishing a great story.

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  6. The perfect ending keeps faith with the reader; it holds to the unspoken unwritten contract established between the author and the reader that things will come out the way they “should be”.

    When you find the formula, please let me know!

    The endings I find hardest are not the “final ending” but the interim endings – the end of the book but not of the series. There are many series I have never finished because of my intense dislike for the ending of Book 1. Aware of this, I have resisted my publisher’s pressure for a new series – because I don’t like the ending to my own Book 1. I’ve even got the book appraised to try to get advice on it – but the appraisers liked the ending! But I know that if I don’t like it, there will be lots of other people who don’t either.

    So, again, let me know when you find the formula!

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  7. These comments are all so thoughtful. I love this discussion. Anne said When you find the formula, please let me know! I suppose that’s the one thing we can all agree on—there is no formula.

    I added the “alternate storylines” option because one of the books that has stayed with me the longest, Gone with the Wind (I who rarely re-read a book have read that one three times), haunted me. I literally dreamed of new endings (but I was sick at the time and possibly feverish 😉 ).

    While I love that satisfying ending that makes me sigh and linger with a book, I can’t get away from how powerful my reaction to Gone with the Wind was. Others have made me think about issues, maybe even think about What Just Happened. Grapes of Wrath comes to mind.

    One thing I can say with some confidence that doesn’t work: confusion.

    Becky

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  8. Becky, you’ve prompted me to think of a good aspect of otherwise unsatisfying endings. Almost certainly the greatest impetus in my life towards becoming a writer was bad endings to fabulous stories. I’d mull those final few pages (or final scene in a tv episode or movie) over and over and over in my mind, branching off at different points in the story to try to create the most personally satisfying ending. It was like a recurring dream that has minor variations (or an alternate universe that hinges on a single change), I suppose. I’d never thought of this as an influence on my writing before but now you mention it, I realise how deep it was.

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