Category Archives: writing

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!

Sarah

A pearl anniversary…

One score and ten years ago…

Busy fizzWith apologies to Abraham Lincoln – I couldn’t resist – it is thirty years ago, almost to the day (it was actually December 2) when my first book, An Image of You, was published.

It was my fourth attempt to write a book for Mills and Boon. I do, somewhere, still have my first rejection letter. I seem to recall the word “wooden” used to describe my characters, and a suggestion that I read books by Elizabeth Oldfield and Vanessa Grant. As you can tell, it is ingrained in my memory.

The book…

I later had the enormous pleasure of meeting Elizabeth at author lunches, along with so many fan-favourite romance authors. But back to that precious moment. The arrival of my first box of books. I’d been out somewhere and when I came home the box was sitting on my desk, with my husband and daughter staring at it, waiting for me to open it. Continue reading

Off-putting Openings : how not to start a book?

key in lock in door

Image by MasterTux from Pixabay

Recently, I’ve started reading several books that I have swiftly put aside. Why?
Because they had off-putting openings.

What did I mean by off-putting openings? I’d say the kind of start that left me—as a reader—confused, or bored, or annoyed. The kind of start that made me say something like, “if this is the best this author can do, then I have better ways of spending my precious reading time.”

Off-putting openings #1 : a crowd of named minor characters

name badge: what is my name?When should an author give a character a name?

That’s not easy to answer. It may seem obvious that all characters have names—of course they do—but does the reader want to know the name, or need to know the name?

Not necessarily, I suggest. Continue reading

Escape With Rupert Bear

The Chinese curse of May You Live in Interesting Times well and truly struck this week, didn’t it? I have tried to keep away from news media, I really have. But the appalling tragicomedy that is our current government just wouldn’t leave me alone. And then I re-encountered Rupert Bear.

I was really grateful to my friend and fellow writer Lesley Cookman for spending a happy few hours in the Rupert Bear Centenary Exhibition at the Beaney (House of Art and Knowledge) in Canterbury. She came back and told our Zoom Circle all about it. 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

Books Set in Bookshops

Reading Recs

I was talking to my daughter over lunch the other day about the books we’re reading.

She belongs to a book group that reads “serious” fiction and, coming up on their list is Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. It’s a book much loved by Sophie Weston and I have taken advantage of Amazon’s “download a sample” button to get a feel for the voice, the story.

Reading cozy crime

My daughter and I talked about a crime series that I’ve read (not cozy) Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths series. Annoyingly, it appears to have stopped, leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

She downloaded the first book but she’s not sure. She didn’t quite take to the main character and while I read very fast on kindle, she listens on audio (she has three children and doesn’t have time to sit down with a book) which gives the listener a surprisingly different experience.

I knew the series was set in Wales but she was getting the accents, which can make listening hard work.

Books set in bookshops

Then, because I enjoy cozy crime, she mentioned a book by Helen Cox, called A Body in the Bookshop that she thought I might like and we started talking about how many books are set in and around bookshops.

Amy suggested I try the Pultizer prize winner, The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, which was on her book group list. Time for another sample because there is something inherently appealing about a book set in a bookshop.

I fell in love with Helen Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road a lifetime ago – and Anthony Hopkins in the film, playing the man with whom she had a long and profitable correspondence.

Anne Bancroft fell in the love with the book, too, and her husband, Mel Brookes, bought the film rights so that she could play Helen.

Romances set in bookshops

Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth II RIP

the Queen, white haired and dressed in yellow jacket and yellow broad brimmed hat decorated with pink roses smiling in the sunshine

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Hail and Farewell

Last week the Libertà Hive and several fellow authors were on a writing retreat in the north. It was a great shock, when I came down to raid the fridge for lunch on Thursday, to find four of them, very serious, sitting round the table looking at the  news feed on various laptops. “It’s over,” said one. “The Queen is going.” They had heard the announcement made by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Grand white staircase at Hotel Royal EvianAt first, I didn’t believe it. I may even have said, “Going where?” But then someone else said, “Of course it’s been coming for a long time.” And I realised what they meant.

It was like that moment on a staircase, when you trip and think you’ve righted yourself, only then to find you’re still falling. All the way to the bottom. (I’ve done it twice.)

The shock was profound. This couldn’t be happening. But it was. 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

Cover help and a Free Book Giveaway

I’m desperately in need of cover help.
Basically, I can’t decide between two different covers for the Christmas book that I’m about to republish. I’ve revised and extended it and I want it to be right. So I’m asking for advice here.

Please tell me which cover you think I should choose. Continue reading

Writing under stress…

Writing (or not) without a kitchen…

I moved into my present flat four years ago. At the time it seemed perfect but, as happens to all of us, I wanted to rip out the kitchen and have something that worked better for me. More storage…

Clearly I could do nothing during lockdown, but in January this year I took myself off to one of those vast out of town warehouses. I picked up a catalogue then, drawing a deep breath – and an even bigger chunk of money from my bank account – sat with Michelle, who took me through the exciting process of buying a new kitchen. (This picture is utter fantasy – I think my entire flat would fit into this!)

Starting from Scratch

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I was going back to the bare walls, so there was the choice of oven (yes, I chose the one that cleaned itself!) and a space age hob. It was only later that I discovered I was going to need new pans for something that modern and my mother’s beautiful stainless steel pans were gratefully received by my daughter (who has a gas hob that isn’t fussy). There was a much needed new fridge/freezer and I went for a smaller dishwasher and sink so that I could fit in an extra cupboard. (Needless to say, this picture is also a fantasy!)

Then there were the worktops. Hyperventilating at the cost of some of them, I eventually made my decision.

Tiles, lighting…

Now we wait…

Continue reading