Inspired 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.
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.
“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.
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
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
I 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?
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!