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.)