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!


10 thoughts on “Off-Putting Endings — how not to finish a book?

  1. Jan Jones

    I’m with you on fait-accompli clues (grrr) and also on ‘series’ endings. Several times I have been left unsatisfied and feeling pressured into buying the next one. Which I didn’t because I was so cross. Investing in a story needs to bring forth a reward.

    I have written series books of my own but I do (I hope) make it quite clear what the main thrust of each particular book is and tie off those particular threads in a suitable manner. Each heroine gets her hero. Where there is an ongoing romance, I try to mark each stage of it so that even if the reader doesn’t get the next book in the series (weeps), they can still imagine the eventual happy ending for themselves.

    1. Sarah Post author

      I knew I was not alone, Jan! Thanks for sharing your views with us. Like you, I feel a bit cheated if a book’s ending doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t have to be the end of the journey, but it does need to be then end of that particular part pf the story. A golden rule I learned early on in my career is “Thou shalt not bore thy reader.” I think now I would add, “neither should you disappoint them.”

  2. lesley2cats

    The difficulty often comes when a series has an over-arching theme – often used in crime series. For instance, the lead detective, amateur or professional,is trying to solve the unexplained murder of a parent/best friend/girl friend which happened years ago. It’s fine to include odd snippets, but not so many that they overshadow the main mystery. Some authors do it well. Others…. hmmm.

    1. Sarah Post author

      Yes, Lesley, sometimes what should be a teaser is far too prominent. I have noticed that too. It should be a niggle that grows throughout the series – not that I write crime of course 🙂

  3. Joanna

    Thank you for all those quotes of moi, Linda 😉 But so much of it is just common sense, isn’t it? I also love “thou shalt not disappoint thy reader”. Satisfying the reader is the goal and Liz put it beautifully.

    1. Sarah Post author

      Joanna, I am very grateful to you and to Liz (Fielding) for your contributions to this post – you both put these things so much better than I could! Yes it is mostly common sense, but, as I am only too aware, when one is in the throes of writing a book sometimes that goes out of the window….

  4. Sophie

    Worst example ever of falling off a cliff: I turned the page to find what happened at the end – only to find myself in the middle of the author’s grateful acknowledgements. Made me go backwards and forwards for a bit (it was on Kindle) wondering whether I’d somehow jumped the last chapter. But no. She /he (and presumably her/his editor) thought they’d finished.

    Now that wasn’t just disappointing. It was WRONG.

    1. Sarah Post author

      Quite agree, Sophie! The book to which I referred in the blog was like that. I checked it out after by looking at online reviews and one reader actually queried if their copy was faulty….

  5. Elizabeth Bailey

    Dare I enter a caveat? I have twice ended a book in the middle of a conversation or argument, but it is (or ought to be) obvious that this is simply an indication of how it’s going to be between these two and there’s no need for me to complete that piece of dialogue. I’ve only had one reader complain that the book was unfinished. Most readers get it. It might be a tad dangerous, but I protest I don’t make the rules – the characters tell me what to do!

  6. Liz Fielding

    Thank you for quoting me so generously, Sarah. I’m still struggling to imagine a book ending where the reader believes the ending had somehow been lost. Shades of Tony Hancock!

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