Heavily into editing and revising my second novel, now I’m questioning its ending. An avid reader, I’m possibly the harshest critic of endings. For me, the ending can determine my overall enjoyment of a novel, so I labor over just how to bring my own story to completion for its readers.
After deciding to write about endings, my first thought was “and they lived happily ever after.” Now that might work for fairy tales, but I’m writing suspense. Do I really want a storybook ending?
I’ve put together a list of different types of endings and how they might be germane to the story, assuming of course, that genre does have an impact on what type of ending an author selects.
1. Happy endings These are mandatory and expected in fairy tales, children’s books, and romance novels.
But just how happy to leave the reader when ending a thriller, suspense or mystery novel can be a quandary. Although I put an element of romance, or, I suppose I should call it angst-laden encounters between the sexes, in the genre of suspense it is necessary that they be secondary to the main plot. A writer of these genres must be careful that his ending never remotely resembles the ending of a romance novel or even romantic suspense novel. In other words, the getting together of the protagonist and his/her romantic interest, should not be the main theme of the ending and be a promise, rather than a guarantee, that the two will continue on the path to romantic nirvana.
2. Everything neatly tied up endings. Like deciding how much romance to end with, the author needs to decide whether to tie up all the loose ends. Should something be held back? As a reader, I say no. I like knowing the whys, and without them, I suspect the author of forgetting something.
A definite reader turnoff—a long dialogue between characters explaining all the loose ends. If using this method of revelation at all, keep it short.
3. Nothing ties up. Seldom used in mystery/suspense, but sometimes as a shocker in horror or science fiction. A friend of mine just wrote a suspense/horror novella in which the two protagonists are murdered by the killer at the end of the book. This ending was so bold and unexpected, that I kind of liked it. But keep in mind, the average reader may not.
4. Epilogues. These aren’t as common in the mystery/suspense genres, but as a reader I like them, especially if the story line is heavily into the personal lives of the characters. The reader wants to know how the characters fared after the dust settled.
5. They just screwed with me! This seems to be a favorite ending for screenwriters these days. I don’t know about everyone else, but for the most part, I hate this type of ending. When the final scene or page, throws out everything its follower spent time being engrossed in, the reader/moviegoer, feels cheated. Again, there will some who like it, but an author must always remember just who he is writing for and what they enjoy.
6. Alternate endings. Why? As a reader, I avoid these gimmicky ploys to offer something different. I suppose you could look at them as a way to give each reader a satisfactory ending, but to me it’s an author cop-out. I want to know how the story really ended in the writer’s mind. The author has to figure out the best, most satisfying ending, not dangle choices in front of his readers.
7. A final twist. Unlike number five, the ending twist can be a satisfying finale if done well. I like a good twist, but they can be a tricky way to tie up the end of a novel. Don’t do one, just to get it in. Be sure it's one the reader will love!
Here’s wishing you a wonderful Easter weekend, filled with people you love, the service of your choice, a basket of your favorite treats, and happy endings.
Till next week,