Author Archives: Sarah

About Sarah

Sarah Mallory is an award winning novelist with more than 50 books published. She writes Georgian and Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon, and also writes as Melinda Hammond.

Off-Putting Endings — how not to finish a book?

Inspforget the starsired by Joanna’s recent blog on ways to put a reader off at the start of a book, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a few pet peeves about off-putting endings.

Call it book-ending Joanna’s post 😉

For me, there is nothing more disappointing than settling down with a book, enjoying the story and investing in the plot and characters. You read to the last page…  And then it leaves you flat.

I have to confess to a vested interest here – a book I read recently which turned out to be one of a series.
Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say.

Female climber clinging to the edge.No, only the cliff-hanger ending left so many loose ends in the main romance and the plot that I felt thoroughly let down. I also felt I was being hustled into buying the next.

I didn’t.

Having invested quite heavily in the story so far, I wasn’t prepared to have it happen again.

Solutions to off-putting endings

So, I asked around and came up with a few pet peeves from other Liberta Hivies. They also gave me useful tips for what an author can do about the ending.

Reader satisfaction in endings

Here’s what the lovely Liz Fielding says. I’ve quoted it in full, because she is so experienced that we can all learn from her.

“An ending has to leave the reader satisfied at a minimum. Uplifted and with a happy sigh is what I hope for. Here’s a quote from my Little Book of Writing Romance on the subject.

“Your ending should leave the reader with a sigh of satisfaction, a longing for more. Most of all, the reader should close the book feeling that the hero and heroine have been tested, that they have faced their darkest fears and come shining through.

“They should have grown in stature during the journey they began on page one and deserve their happy ever after.”

I loved the ending of Romancing the Stone. Joan Wilder began the book frightened of her own shadow, but even though she believes she will never see Jesse again, she is now striding out, full of confidence. With or without him, she has won.

This is quite an ending.

I recently read a crime novel, with a female police sergeant in the lead. I was cracking through it until, quite near the end, at that point where the tension is heightened and you’re heading for the big reveal, she did something so stupid, so completely idiotic, something no trained police officer would do, that I stopped believing in her as a character. No, I did not finish the book.

Don’t fall off a cliff

Sophie uses the phrase: “Don’t fall off a cliff.”

It may be apt. How many times have you read a book where the author finishes everything in half a chapter or less? It’s as if she realises she has already written 79K and has a limit of 80K so everything has to be tied up PDQ.

It fails the Liz Fielding test because it’s not satisfying for the reader.

Tie up all the loose ends in your plot endings

key in lock in door

Image by MasterTux from Pixabay

Joanna again :”I read a locked-room mystery a while ago where one of the victims drowned in the locked room but there was no water in there and the body wasn’t wet. It was never explained. Teeth-gnashing for me.

“If it’s part of a series, there can be untied ends but ONLY if they don’t relate to the main plot (crime, romance, whatever) of that particular book.”

Confession time: I’ve done off-putting endings too

I have been guilty of leaving loose ends – not relating directly to the main plot or the romance, but to the characters. It was in one of my early books, written as Melinda Hammond (and yes, I am brave enough to admit which book!).

The heroine’s sister is pregnant in the final chapters. She was a secondary character. And I was so focussed on the romance that I didn’t mention her at the end. Some months after publication, someone wrote and asked me if she had had her baby, and was it a boy or a girl!

I learned a lesson then, that if you write characters real enough to interest your reader, of course they are going to want to know what happened to them.

Think Pride & Prejudice: Austen could easily have ended the book with the marriages of Lizzie and Jane, but she includes a final few paragraphs looking into the future. They describe what happens to the main characters going forward, including Elizabeth’s achieving a reconciliation or sorts between Darcy and Lady Catherine de Bourgh!

And a final tip from Joanna for tying up loose ends:
“It helps to have a list of loose ends that the author keeps as she’s writing. She can tick them off as she resolves them. Without a list, some may get missed by the author. But she can be sure that they will NOT be missed by readers. I covered this in a wider blog on timelines.  Even if an author doesn’t do a timeline as detailed as mine, she DOES need a list of hooks if she doesn’t want to annoy her readers.”

Don’t cheat the reader with your endings

letters spelling out ENDI agree with Joanna here. She says: “Especially important in crime. It’s a pain when the solution to the crime or puzzle or whatever depends on information or a twist that the reader didn’t know about.”

Readers enjoy picking up clues and waiting to see if their suspicions are correct, or not. I love the subtle clues, rather than those that hit you over the head, though! This can mean going back and putting in a clue earlier. For me, nothing is so satisfying when reading a crime novel as to think I have been extra clever and spotted that small detail!

And off-putting endings in Romance, in particular?

Many readers want “a bit of a wallow” and more than “and they lived happily ever after”. Heyer did that a lot (probably because she didn’t want to write love scenes).

Couple With Umbrella KissingI don’t mind if a romance ends with with a kiss. I am happy to believe that everyone lived (reasonably) happily.

However, what if it is a book in a series?  Don’t you want just a few teasers to take you through to the next book?

Joanna, a confirmed wallow-lover says this. “If it’s a series with continuing characters, it’s possible to show h/h of book 1 as minor characters in book 2 . You see their life as a couple there, so a wallow in book 1 may be less necessary.”

So there, Dear Reader,  you have it

A few personal gripes and some great tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of off-putting endings. My thanks for their contributions to Joanna Maitland, Liz Fielding and Sophie Weston, some of the best writers I know!

I am sure you have your own pet hates and we would love to hear them. Plus any helpful tips you might like to pass on!


Unseasonal Books Giveaway Winners

And the winners are……..

Libertà launch with fanfare of trumpets

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Autumn: Season of Unseasonal Books plus Giveaway!

It is the end of October

We should be talking about autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulnessberries in autumn

Or Hallowe’en, darker nights, spooky goings-on and tales by candlelight.

18th century woman with candle

Warning: if you think autumn is too early for “December Festivities”, look away now!

Click Cover for your Local Amazon

As you can see, this book has a Christmas theme. I am sorry, it can’t be helped. It is out there. Continue reading

The Devil and the postman

Sarah home after meeting the devilHome again, and celebrating another voyage of discovery, complete with devil and postman. Don’t you just love it when you are driving along and suddenly discover something new?

That is what happened to me when I recently travelled back from my writers’ retreat with the Liberta Hivies (and a few others).

It was a dreich day…

raincloudsDespite the weather, we were taking the scenic route home…

mailcoach print

What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the old coaching road. Mailcoaches used this road in the 19th century to carry the mail between Dumfries and Edinburgh.

We have all seen pictures of the mailcoach dashing through the countryside, horn blaring, but did you know there is a monument? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out more about that. Continue reading

Research Overload (or don’t let facts spoil a good story)

I am a storyteller. Does that have to mean research overload?

StorytellingStorytelling is an art as old as time. I make up stories, tell yarns.

I am not an academic, I didn’t go to university and I didn’t study the art of writing at any college.  I remember telling stories in primary school (possibly it began even earlier, I can’t remember) and I learned my art as I went along.  Still do, in fact.

So I am NOT telling you how to write (or how to read). I am talking about stuff that distracts me when I’m reading a novel. Things I try to avoid.

“Write what you know”

We have all heard that old maxim, but whatever genre you write in, you will come across something that needs you to do a little research. At least, that is my experience. Continue reading

Whisky, Chessmen and Bonnie Prince Charlie

In May this year we booked a holiday. To explore the scenery, landscape and, of course, the history of the Outer Hebrides. It was not intended as a Jacobite tour, but from the very start we kept bumping into Charlie! I knew some of his story, of course, because I researched much of it while writing my Highland Trilogy. Two of the books actually mention Bonnie Prince Charlie.

In the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Almost)

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Foodie ramblings: gardening? anyone for beetroot?

Following Joanna’s wonderful blog on pheasants the other week, another food-related post. About gardening. Sort of.Well, more a ramble, really, but there is some (vaguely) writerly stuff at the end. Promise.

Confession time

Gardening? I am “NotAGardener”. There,  I have said it.

NotAGardeners” will know how inadequate they feel when they see a well tended veg patch, straight lines of leeks standing to attention, beans and peas running riot over a network of canes. Lettuces, cabbages, potatoes – to say nothing of herbaceous borders bursting with colour, flowers waiting to be picked to adorn the dining table. It would be (naturally) groaning under the weight of food I have grown, harvested and prepared with my own fair hands.

Gardening? Nah

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Red Boots and Bow Tie (or RNA Awards Ceremony)

Hello again. I’m back about the RNA Awards…

Recently I was here with Louise Allen, chatting about how it felt like to be shortlisted for the RNA Awards. Now the Awards are over, and I’m back to tell you all about it.

RNA Awards invitation

Romanceland has been buzzing about the RNA Awards

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The RNA Awards Finalists are announced…

It’s that Awards time of year again –

The Romantic Novelist Association has released its shortlist for the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards and I am delighted to be amongst the finalists, along with fellow author and long time friend, Louise Allen.

Louise Allen shortlisted for RNA Awards Sarah Mallory shortlisted for RNA Awards

Earlier I caught up Louise for a natter and I thought you might like to listen in….

SM It came as a most delightful shock to me when I discovered I had been nominated for the RNA Awards this year. To be honest, I have been so involved in my latest book that I had forgotten all about submitting Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount. How did you feel when you heard the news? Something like this, perhaps…?

champagne for Awards finalists

LA Stunned, to be honest! I’d forgotten too, having agreed to a very tight deadline on the book I’ve just delivered. It came as a shock, but also a huge boost because I had just reached that ghastly stage with the current book when everything seemed to be wrong with it. It was such a joy to realise that sometimes I can write things people enjoy. Continue reading

Cinderella and the Birth of a Book…

December sees the publication of my latest Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. It is also the time of festive fun and pantomimes, so the Cinderella title is very apt, I think.

Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount


Once upon a time….

Philip James de Loutherbourg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The story is set in Regency England but its origins are much further afield. Spain in fact. The whole thing starts with the Spanish Armada!

Many Spanish ships from that ill-fated expedition came to grief around the British Isles, and the are many stories of survivors “leaving their mark” on the local population in the form of dark eyed, dark haired children. My heroine, Carenza, has this dark colouring, inherited from her mother.

Of course, she isn’t the first literary character to have such a heritage. The one that springs first to my mind is Jimmy Perez in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series (not that the lovely Dougie Henshall, who plays Perez in the TV series is dark haired OR dark-eyed).

Then there are The Westray Dons

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