But is it ever really over? This is a question that haunts me as a writer. And lately, I’ve been obsessed with analyzing every ending I’ve ever written. I should explain. Sit tight. I’m about to ramble.
I’ve had mostly fantastic reviews of my books, but I’ve also had some that were not so great. These bum me out, because I can be a drama queen now and then. Mostly, though, I try not to look at reviews very often. Actually, I try to avoid them altogether, but sometimes a well-meaning friend tells me about a positive review and I go read it, gloat a little, and then I see there are other new reviews. Oh look, this one’s only two stars. What happened? I check it out, and then down the rabbit hole I go. Usually ends in tears and ugliness so I won’t go there right now.
Reading reviews isn’t wrong. How else will you know what readers think of your work? Obsessing, though, is bad. Taking any of them personally is very, very bad. I think a smart writer appreciates the positive reviews, but doesn’t view them as gospel. She enjoys the ego stroke, but doesn’t get too cocky. She looks at negative reviews with a critical eye, and doesn’t get upset or take the criticism personally. Instead, a smart writer tries to use the negative points to figure out where she can improve.
So, I did that (it still stings), and the basics are:
- Sometimes I cross the line into completely implausible, never going to happen types of stories. I don’t think I’m changing that, because it’s what I do and lots of readers love it. Implausible is sometimes an excellent way to escape. if the real world is making you sick, then a completely fictional adventure can be the perfect cure. However, this doesn’t mean I can’t improve. I have to make sure what I write is compelling enough that the reader is willing to believe the impossible. Obviously, for some readers I’ve failed in this area. I am working on correcting the problem.
- My characters swear too much. Hmm. The thing is, I’ve scaled it back significantly already. Do I remove profanity completely? No. So, we’ll go back to this another time.
- The reader couldn’t get interested. Knowing I’ve bored a reader into closing the book keeps me up at night. While only a couple of reviews include phrases like, “Just didn’t interest me,” this is my JOB, so it’s really troubling if even just one reader isn’t interested in finishing the book. I have to interest the reader, or I’ve failed. So now I have to figure out where I lost them. We’ll come back to this at a later date. (When I figure out where I went wrong and how to fix it)
- I suck at endings. It’s possible I just end books in a way that only appeals to certain readers, but the majority of my not-so-awesome reviews mention being disappointed in how the book ended, so I need to examine what I’m doing and make changes.
That’s what I want to discuss today. Endings are hard. As a reader, I know a shitty ending can ruin an otherwise awesome book. I hate when I enjoy a book until I reach the last page. I remember the sour mood a crappy ending gives me and forget how I tore through the other 299 pages with ecstatic glee. So, when I see a review that says the ending I wrote sucked ass, I panic. Why? Because I can’t please everyone and I really want to. I want to write the perfect ending. I just don’t know how.
Should the writer tie everything up in a neat little package, or does she leave some ambiguity so the reader is free to imagine what happens next? (this is what I’ve done in the past) How much ambiguity, though, can you allow before you end up with the dreaded cliffhanger? Are cliffhangers really so bad? (the answer is yes, in my opinion) If I clear away every single detail so the reader has zero questions left, then am I not doing all the thinking for her? Is that what she wants? I don’t know.
Different types of endings are necessary for each book, though. For example, I have books that are standalones (Dirty Truths, The Legend of Jackson Murphy and In the Bones) and I have books that I’ve plotted as part of a series. Lucky, for example, is supposed to be the first of one of these series, but I tried to make them as independent of each other as possible. Imbroglio, a current WIP, and Sex, Peanuts, Fangs and Fur, a finished project I’m currently querying, are plotted as trilogies (although I haven’t finished outlining, which is a very naughty thing to do, just so you know), and should be read in the order they’re written. Each of these requires a different level of finality at the end, and have threads left dangling that are tied up in future books.
I thought I gave the first three books satisfying endings, but a handful of reviewers disagree. They mentioned feeling the endings are rushed or weak. Do I rush endings? I think I might. How do I fix that? Good question.
With the series books, I’ve left questions at the end. No cliffhangers, per say, but I definitely didn’t tie all the bows.
Now it’s bothering me. I keep thinking I need to go back and rewrite these endings so there are zero questions. Then another part of my brain tells me that’s ridiculous. Part of the thrill of a series is uncovering new things as you read each book. Then another part of my brain says, “Mmmm… Doritos” and it partners up with the part of my brain that is addicted to Netflix, and they convince me to put off making any decisions.
So I’m asking all of you how you feel about endings, both as readers and writers. Is it even possible to write the perfect ending? If yes, teach me. If no… we’re all doomed, I suppose. (I know, that was a little dramatic. I told you I suck at endings.)
11 thoughts on “The End”
Just pull a “Stephen King” and burn down the house at the end. Have you noticed how many of his books end with a house/hotel/town burning down? A lot.
You can’t be all things to all people. The Godfather is one of the greatest films ever made, yet plenty of people just can’t get into it or find it protracted and boring. Green Day’s American Idiot is the best American rock-n-roll album of the 21st century, in my mind, but many music lovers consider it to be three-chord drivel. Nick Hornby has sold millions upon millions of books, none of which has anything approximating a satisfying conclusion.
Since you claim to be comfortable with profanity: Do your thing, and fuck ’em if they don’t like it.
You’re right. King does burn a lot of shit. You’re also right about the endings. I must say “fuck it” and write what feels right. I shall print this comment and post it on the wall in my office/garage, because I know I’m going to slip down this rabbit hole again. 😉
Yes, there is a perfect ending. It’s the one you have written.
The problem is, even if you tie up all the lose ends and put a bow on it and people like it, they’re going to want more. If they want to dislike it, they’ll find some excuse no matter what you write, to complain. 50 Shades of Puke is a perfect example of how subjective taste is.
As far as reviews in general, I try not to worry too much about it. I think it’s good to figure out the merit of their opinions and learn from them if they’re valid, but not at the price of my sanity. I’m not going to change my style for less than a handful of people. Now, if every single review brought up the same issue or every review was negative, THEN, I’d probably obsess. Or find a cave and crawl in it. lol!
Having read all of your books, I really don’t think you have a problem with endings. The great part is, you’re naturally evolving as a writer with every one you write. So stop worrying so much and keep writing!
*loose (I can’t believe I spelled that wrong – it’s HUGE pet-peeve of mine!)
I’ve mentioned how I love you, haven’t I? You’re like the chocolate to my peanut butter. 😉 I know I over analyze, but can’t seem to stop myself. I don’t think I’m alone in that, so hopefully this helps illustrate that authors can’t please everyone, even if we really want to.
I do believe this is the first time the L-word has been dropped.. and I’m sorta freaking out here. 😀
You’re not alone in the over analyzing bit. I do it too (and then you talk me down). I just don’t want to see you beat yourself up over something that isn’t a problem. 😉
As is obvious by the post, the ending thing has been bothering me for a while. I think because I spend so much time on my endings, I’m more sensitive to criticism than I should be. Logically I know the endings are “good” but my tender writer’s ego keeps with the “What if they’re not?” bullshit. 😉
People are so different in their approach to reading that there’s no way to make the “perfect ending.” There is only the perfect ending to the story you want to tell. The only thing that really matters is whether you’re happy with the story. When you are happy with the story and telling the story you want to tell, everyone else can suck it. However, if you’re not happy with your story or you’re unsure about parts of it, any criticism will make those things jump out and bite you. When it’s exactly what you want, you can more easily say “well, I’m sorry you didn’t like it” to the other person.
Very wise words, Andrew. Thanks. 🙂
I think the problem with unsatisfying endings (in general, I don’t mean yours) lies not with how many loose ends are tied up or not, but with how satisfying the climax is, how big the payoff is for the invested energy and emotion. If your climax NAILS IT, the resolution can be sloppier, the readers will forgive it.
The worst endings, IMO, are those where the payoff is too small, compared to the amount of energy invested. For example, a protagonist that fights against terrible odds throughout the book and has to make increasingly big sacrifices, and then finally meets the bad guy face to face and it’s all over in a ten minute fist fight — regardless how phenomenal and catchy — yeah, go fuck yourself. Or if the extraordinary protagonist has been traveling strange worlds and dealing with weird characters, and the climax is something trite that could literally happen to anybody, then it’s a failed ending, even if all loose ends and questions are wrapped up masterfully.
I say, don’t worry about the denouement as much as about the climax.
Great, now I’ve transplanted your anxiety. *slaps herself*
But seriously, your endings so far, from what I’ve read, were great and fit the books like a glove. The only thing you could improve on is to pay greater attention to the proportion of your climax compared to the work the protagonist has had to do, and to the emotional energy invested by the reader. The flavor of it needs to fit too, and not come out of the blue. But we ALL need improvement in that area, including most successful authors on the Best Seller lists.
Great. Now I’m worried about climaxes….
Just kidding. You make excellent points. 🙂