Friday, May 4, 2012

Least Satisfying Endings

Not to be confused with a Terrible Ending

A Terrible Ending is one which makes you put a book down and feel like you just wasted hours of your life. 

Least Satisfying Endings are in another class. They come at the end of an epic, moving book that raised your expectations and just. didn't. quite. deliver.



Without naming names, I want to talk about such an ending. I read what I originally thought was a trilogy. The first two books left me feeling unsatisfied with the two main characters and their relationship left hanging in the air. Then FINALLY at the end of Book 3, there was the catharsis I was seeking. Angels sang hallelujah. It was a beautiful thing. I think I actually let out a happy sigh. 

Then came a fourth book. I put off reading it for a long time because the reviews all said the same thing: this book shatters the feel-good you got at the end of the trilogy. Some of the reviews even suggested never reading Book 4. 

I knew I'd pick it up eventually out of curiosity and a love for the characters, but I am glad I gave myself time to enjoy the bliss of a happy ending wherein most loose ends were tied up and every character had grown in unique ways. After investing over a thousand pages into these characters, I needed that rest. But after a long rest, it was time to find out what happened next.

I finished Book 4 last night and now I know what the reviewers were talking about. 

The author pulls the rug out. 

You think you're about to get another nice resolution with most loose ends tied up, and then...

Something epically disastrous happens and... END SCENE. 

THE END.

That's it. 

It reminds me of a story my mom told me about The Lord of the Rings trilogy actually starting out as one long book. The publishers, she says, split the books somewhat arbitrarily into three installments. As a result, one book ends with the characters in fatal peril and emotional turmoil... which means that the reader is also left in emotional turmoil. 

Books are hard to write. I'm still trying to figure out the ideal story arc for my own beloved character creations. Endings are probably the hardest. As a writer, I totally sympathize with authors on this. But as a reader, it's just hard not to be disappointed.

So for the sake of learning the craft from published works, I'll start a list of Ways Never to End Your Book (my opinions, of course). Please join me in the comments. 

  • Never leave your main character on a sacrificial altar with a dagger hovering over his heart.
  • Try not to end with a shallow conversation between the romantic leads.
  • If you end with a joke, make sure it doesn't fall flat.
  • Don't end with a flashback.
  • If you must leave your antagonist mysteriously missing (is he dead or alive?), at least avoid the cliches (e.g. his black cloak blowing in the wind). 
Your turn. 

What kind of endings drive you nuts as a reader?



16 comments:

  1. LOL. Love the never list. adding another; Never sum up all the angst with two paragraphs of oh yah they worked that out.

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  2. The Happily ever after kills me when it's shown a few days after your whole families been murdered, and, really...you shouldn't be that happy.

    Luv the list

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    1. I was going to say the same thing!

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  3. Ughhh, I read this fantastic mystery that just built the tension so beautifully. I was flying through the pages, waiting to see what would happen, when the tension hit the breaking point, and...

    ... an incidental character showed up out of nowhere to tell the MC that the antagonist was out of the picture and everything was okay. I thought for sure it was a trap, and I kept flipping the pages, and then the book just... ended. I was so disappointed!

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  4. Nice list!

    I hate it when the author tries to force an epiphany on the main character at the end or tries to redeem the villain and it falls flat.

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  5. You forgot the super pissed ending. Where you hate how the story turned but love it enough to grieve for awhile and then pick up the second book.

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  6. Katrina, I KNOW WHAT BOOK YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. I was thinking, as I read this, "Is she going to talk about ____, because that's the one I hated the ending," and you did! EXACT same reaction I had (exact exact) when I finished the third one. I was literally waiting for it to end, like "yes, this is the conclusion of the trilogy!" and then the book ends and it's not done and I just stare at it. So angry. Like a firey anger. I didn't even read the fourth one, first: because it took so long to come out after the 3rd and 2nd: because I was still angry. I know exaccttly what book you are talking about! I think we're talking about the same book here, and I hope you caught the hints I put somewhere in the above passage :)

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  7. Also, do you hate when the main character dies at the end, even if it is for a really good reason? I've always wondered this :)

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  8. I THINK I know which book you're talking about, but I don't want to name names... Is there a 5th book to the trilogy? Or was it THE END of The Ends?

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  9. I hate when the dog dies, or the best friend is the traitor, or the main character dies. Maybe in the real world we can't have happy endings; but IN FICTION, I say writers should share a little sunshine when the day is done!

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  10. I think the worst ending of a book;

    "Then I woke up and it was all a dream."

    WHAT??? I actually read a book in 4th grade that ended that way. I was so mad for weeks.

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  11. Wait a minute! This is a review blog, right? So it's expected that you name names. Now I am frustrated because I don't know what books you are talking about.

    The worst endings for me are when the hero fights, and struggles and sacrifices all the way through the story and then at the end survives the disaster or gets the girl or whatever - and then is killed for no good reason at all. My family refers to these stories as Leviathans because in that movie the hero fights the monster, manages to be the last survivor, gets to the ocean's surface (it happens under water), is about to get rescued - and then gets eaten by a shark. So so so stupid! Two other stupid stories like that are Night of the Living Dead and Cold Mountain (I know it won an oscar but I hated it because of this reason.)

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  12. I have to add a movie, well, a book but I only saw the movie: HG Wells' War of the Worlds. Sci-fi, took the teenage boys to see it, got caught up in it (Tom Cruise running through constant peril trying to save a little girl), and then . . . flat. The aliens suddenly self-destructed. Actually, it was a microscopic virus, and I know Wells wrote it that way for a reason, but it left me feeling very unsatisfied - to the point that I used it as an example in a writer's workshop for teens! So add this to your list: NEVER have some unexpected outside influence solve the problem - always let your hero do it!

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  13. I'm gonna plead the fifth on the title of the series which this post references. :) I've reviewed the books on my personal blog, so I don't feel the need to do it here, and I really just wanted to talk about endings. Plus, I have a lot of respect for the author. It turns out quite a few of my favorite authors like to drive me crazy with their endings. *shakes fist at favorite authors*

    Laurisa, rest assured I'm not talking about your book in this post!

    SC Author, I do always hate it when a main character dies in the end, but some authors have a way of making it almost beautiful when that happens (the Weasley twin in Harry Potter). Okay, maybe he wasn't a main character, but he was one of my favorites!

    Jennifer, you are so wise. "So add this to your list: NEVER have some unexpected outside influence solve the problem - always let your hero do it!" -I agree 100%

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  14. I hate it when the main underlying question from the first chapter(s) is not answered by the end of the book. The main thing that pulled me through the book, the main question I wanted answered, the reason for reading the whole dang thing, and then ... nothing. This seems to happen a lot in series books. I understand having a pull for the reader to move to the next book, but I still like the main question to be answered. And I don't generally like it when the MC dies in the end, or when the end is left open for the reader to imagine what might happen. That one drives me crazy. I like closure at the end of a book.

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  15. I don't necessarily hate flashback endings, just like I don't necessarily hate (but often do) hate endings that do a time jump into the future.

    I think it's a question of whether the author does a good enough job of tying up all the loose ends before the flashback/time-skip, or if they're using the flashback/time-skip as a crutch so that they don't have to actually put effort into tying up loose ends in the present.

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