Monday, February 1, 2010

Does it All Really Matter in the End?

This year is a new beginning for me in a lot of ways, so it makes sense that my first blog post on a writing subject would be about endings. No? Sure it does. ;)

I know I’ve blogged about endings before, but this post was inspired by a book I read recently. I’d been avoiding this book, because the premise didn’t really excite me. But I’d seen it recommended by so many bloggers, when I saw it on the shelf, I finally gave in and picked it up.

It was well-written, and I read it in less than two days, so the author was doing a lot of things right—good tension and pacing, beautiful descriptions, etc.—but I never really felt a connection to the characters. So when I got to the end and EVERYONE got a happy ending, including the bad guy who wasn’t really a bad guy, I was left with a feeling of disappointment, like there was something good there that I missed or maybe it was something the author missed. Either way, when I found out there was a sequel, I had no desire to read it—even after reading the teaser chapter at the end of the book.

I admit, I like my endings infused with a little pain, a little sacrifice on the part of the main character. Endings where everything is perfect, all tied up with pretty ribbons and bows, to me, are unrealistic and frustrating. Not to mention, once the bad guy’s scheme was revealed, I was able to guess the ending exactly. I like to be surprised at least a little at the end.

So what do you think? What makes a good ending? Do you like it when everyone gets a happy ending? Or is that too unrealistic to be enjoyable? And do you like to be able to guess the ending, or do you like to be surprised?


  1. Hmmm, I like the surprise, though if the mystery is really good, there is a bit of satisfaction in saying "aha! I knew it!" But I do like my happy endings. They don't have to be perfectly happy with rainbows and butterflies and all that nonsense. But I like the love interests to end up together, even if they have more difficulties to face; I like the mystery solved, even if there are more puzzles in the box; and I like the villain to be defeated, even if he/she will live to terrorize another day.

    Mostly though, it depends on the story. I read a book once, by one of my favorite authors, who always gave the heroine a happy ending, and at the end of this particular book, she didn't. The love interest married someone else, her son really didn't want anything to do with her, and the heroine ended up alone, but did have the love of her friends and learned her lesson. Now, she wasn't the nicest heroine on the planet, though she had very realistic and understandable reasons for what she did.

    But I was so mad about her non-happy ending that I chucked the book across the room, and though I have reread all of this author's books numerous times, I have never reread that one.

    Though now I am curious and wondering if the adult me would react in the same way. Hmmm, I'm thinking I may have to go reread it now :D

    And what book did you read? I'm dying to know because if I didn't read it, I want to now, to see if I feel the same way :D

  2. Interesting that you should post this now. I'm approaching the end of my latest manuscript and I'm thinking my heroine is not going to get the guy after all. It's a bit sad, but it's right, I think, for this story.

  3. You said the magic word: sacrifice. I feel the most ripped off when the heroine gets exactly what she wants after having to do very little more than be scared for 60% of the novel. Life is about pain, and without experiencing pain, loss or suffering along with the mc, I have a hard time feeling for them.

    Don't get me wrong, I love a HEA, even in genres outside of romance, but the characters need to earn that happy ending. Even predictable is not exactly a bad thing, like if I know I'm reading a Cinderella story, I know the mc is going to get the guy/girl.

    Tricia, I think you should follow your gut on this one. I think it's probably a good thing to surprise yourself sometimes. That means you may surprise the reader.

    I'm worried about the end of the wip I just finished, a murder mystery. I'm hoping that I didn't make it obvious who the killer is, but I had to make sure readers won't feel cheated, either. And I have to figure out how to make the killers motives believable in very little time.

  4. I don't mind any of those endings, but for me, it has to feel finished. If I know a sequel is coming, great, but I still want to feel some sort of closure from the first book. I don't want to be left feeling like I got short-changed.

  5. Ooh, I really love a tortured, twisty ending. I hate it when things get wrapped up too pretty and perfect. I don't buy it. Well, I suppose it depends on the story. A contemporary, fun YA that I'm expecting to be silly and light hearted? Sure, end happy and well wrapped. But if I'm expecting a darker, more serious tale, I don't want a picture perfect ending.

  6. A part of me is always going to want a happily ever after ... but when EVERYONE gets their storybook ending, I'm left unsatisfied as well. I think it's much more difficult to write a book without the ribbons and bows, but to me, they're much more rewarding.

    p.s. You KNOW I want to know what this book is that you read now ... right? Feel free to sneak me a secret email :)

  7. Oooh. Good one. I want to be surprised, and no, I don't think everything should be all neatly wrapped up in the end. Life is messy. Someone has to lose something to gain something.

    The book "I Don't Know How She Does It" made me scream because she was flawed during the entire book, as we all are, and then at the end she did what society expected of her and then everything was hunky dory. Bleh.

    Twilight series - I admit, I am a junkie - BUT I didn't like how the last book wrapped everything up so that absolutely NO ONE lost anything at all. No pain. No suffering. You've teased us with death for four friggin' books, and then...sunshine and hugs. Hmmm. Dissatisfaction.

    I am dying to know what book you read...

  8. It depends. I love a great sad or ironic ending, but I think certain stories are better served by a happy ending. I've read books where I was disappointed by a happy ending and other books where I hated the sad ending. I think in the end you just have to do what's best for your story.

  9. I do like happy endings, but when they're there just for the purpose of being there with no justification or taking characters into account, then I feel gypped. I'm one of the weird people who was rooting for Harry Potter to die, not because I hate him or anything like that, but I feel like it would have been so much more meaningful had the good vs. evil battle ended up with good sacrificing itself to get rid of evil. (But I think a lot of people would have been really angry :) ) Book endings just need to make sense for me, whether they are happy or sad.

  10. Tere summed up my thinking when she said "Don't get me wrong, I love a HEA, even in genres outside of romance, but the characters need to earn that happy ending."

    I also like sacrifice, and don't want everything tied up in a neat little ribbon, even if it's moderately happy :). I also love a good tragic ending, now and again!

  11. I like the ending to be resolved, meaning I don't want to wait for another book to have the story resolve itself. I'm okay with sequels, but not if the first one feels unresolved.

    Second, I like endings to reflect real life. And that usually means that not everything is tied up in a happy little bow. So I'm with you.

  12. And can I say I am SOOO with Julie, the Wife on the Twilight ending??

  13. Michelle: I agree. It depends on the story. But I still find it a bit unbelievable when everything ends perfectly for everyone.

    Tricia: I think the unexpected is good. Good luck!

    Tere: I totally agree. The hero/heroine must earn that happy ending.

    Shannon: Unfinished endings are the worst. I've had a couple like that where I wanted to chuck the book, even knowing there was a sequel. Very frustrating.

    L.T.: I love that description--a tortured, twisting ending.

    jess: Definitely more rewarding, and much more believable.

    Julie, TW: Totally agree about Twilight. Very disappointing.

    Natalie: In the end, it really all just depends on the story. Good point.

    Julie Dao: I agree, the ending has to make sense, but I think that's the problem with uber happy endings. Usually, if everyone is happy, it just feels very unrealistic.

    Becca: Tragic endings, though they can leave you feeling sad, I think have much more potential for a strong, believable ending--as long as it fits the story, of course. ;)

    Elana: I don't like endings that leave huge plot points unresolved, either. Regardless of whether there's a sequel. I've stuck with it for 250+ pages, I need some closure, dang it! ;)