Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The End

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I’ve been thinking a lot about endings lately. No, not my own. The ones in my books. The reason for this moment of reflection is that I’m wrapping up my third novel.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m beginning to gain a better grasp on my process as an author. I’ve done it enough now, that I kind of know of what to expect as I stumble my way through. That’s not to say it’s always easier—it’s not. In fact, in some ways, it’s actually harder. I’m more the daredevil author these days, more willing to strap on my helmet and try things I would never have considered before, and with that comes its share of problems.

But the one thing I still pay very close attention to are my endings. They're important to me—really important—both as a reader and a writer.

As a reader, nothing bothers me more than a book that keeps me in suspense and turning the pages only to reach a conclusion that feels tacked-on or falls flat on its face. It doesn’t matter how engaging or well written the story is up to that point. If it doesn’t satisfy, I feel cheated. In fact, in those cases, that makes it even worse because my expectations are higher and the disappointment, greater. Reading is an investment, one that requires a payoff, not just in money but in time. Especially time. Since I've started writing books, I find I have far less of it to read. What little time I do have I want to feel worthwhile and enjoyable.

As an author, I know I won’t satisfy everyone, but I want to leave as few feeling disappointed or cheated as possible. So while I’m writing, I try to pay special attention to my reader’s mind as well as my writer’s. Part of that means making sure I’ve laid the groundwork and weaved my story in a manner that makes the ending feel organic rather than out of the blue or as my editor often cautions, “just in time.” I also try to pay close attention to both the story and the emotional plots. Two very different things but ones that are equally important. Since my stories are character driven, I want my readers to feel the emotional impact on my protagonist, and I want it to hit them hard. If my main character is feeling deep sadness, I want tears. If he’s feeling joy, I want the reader to experience that as well. When he’s in danger, I want them to know they have a pulse and to really feel it.

Recently, a writer-friend expressed her annoyance when she got to the end of a book and discovered there really was no ending at all. Lots of loose ends and no mention of a sequel. Bad move. She decided not to buy that author’s books anymore.

Another told me he bought a second book from an author after falling in love with the first, but when he did, it was a big disappointment. The reason? The ending was a big letdown. 

These examples illustrate rather well how important an ending is in a book and how it can make or break an author's career.

So as I wind up to the ending of my own novel, I’d love to get your input. Readers: what bothers you most about endings, I mean, what drives you absolutely crazy? Writers: what do you do to make sure your endings measure up?


  1. Endings are the most challenging part of the story for authors. And not all readers like the same kind of ending. (Just ask my beta readers.) Payoff is important, so what I worry about is going over the top in an effort to keep giving readers something new.

    In contrast, my least favorite ending is one that just fizzles to a stop or is unrealistic...or both. Like having the protagonist encounter the perp and he/she just confesses everything. TV cop shows do this a lot, which is why I rarely watch them. .

  2. Excellent post, Drew! Endings are so important. I like an ending that is unexpected and surprising, but when you go back, it all makes sense.

    What I really hate are endings that feel contrived, that obviously have the heavy hand of the author trying to manipulate things to fit. Or that work only because of last-minute stuff that was hastily shoved into the novel near the end.

    Also, I like any questions raised in the novel to be answered in the last chapters - don't leave me dangling on anything critical.

    Great post! I'll be sending all my author clients here to read it.

  3. I loved Joseph Finder's PARANOIA because of how he handled the ending. I'm sure it left some readers less than satisfied, but to me it was perfect.

    Another book by another author I read years ago had an amazing plot, a fabulous story… and then, what??? A helicopter from where? Why? The ending read as if it had been written by another writer. As if maybe the publishers told him to write a new ending in three hours.

    And thanks to one beta reader in particular (ahem) I completely rewrote the ending of the manuscript that's currently in edits. She was right. And now my so-so ending is a bit more slam-bang.

    We've all heard that the beginning is what sells your book and the ending is what sells your next book. I don't require every thread to be tied and every question answered, but the main points should be wrapped up in an emotionally satisfying way.

  4. I just read a book that ended abruptly and I was disappointed; I kept pressing next page on my Kindle, convinced there had to be more and a better ending. It leaves a reader annoyed when it happens. I agonize over my endings and use beta readers to make sure they satisfy. A writer knows when they've rushed the ending - and a reader definitely does.

  5. As a reader, if you expect me to buy again, I need to walk away satisfied. That's not to say you can't leave me with some questions, but the current story line (even if it's a series) needs to conclude somehow. Leaving a reader dangling does not make them buy the next book. It frustrates.

    Also, MAKE SURE a reader can find the next book easily. In this day of ebooks that link, definitely put a link to your next book in the back. It's simple and I can't tell you how many books I've purchased on the heels of reading one of the author's free books. If I like the author, I click the next one without hesitation.

  6. What do I hate about endings? The end. I've rarely been satisfied with an ending to a book, and that includes my own. Interestingly, I like many of the endings to short stories or flash fiction. They have a way of ending the story but kickstarting your imagination. It's hard to do that in a novel - I think people believe if they've invested this much time with your characters and plot, they deserve it to come to a full and complete stop.

    Sadly, I think my books end like those episodes of "Police Squad!" if you remember it. Done by the Zuckers, it was nothing but running sight gags and puns, and always ended in the squadroom with light-hearted banter about the case. Then, instead of freezing the last frame and running the credits, the actors had to freeze while the credits rolled by. Okay, maybe you had to be there, but it was corny/funny.

    Someday I hope my endings are satisfying...

  7. Great comments, everyone.

    I think I struggle with my endings more than anything else. Part of it is because it's the last impression a reader will have of my latest work. I want it to be powerful enough so when the next one comes along, hopefully, they'll want to pick it up.

  8. Great post, Drew. I like happy endings. If they can't be happy, I least want the loose ends tied up. And I agree with Jenny. Abrupt endings are disappointing. I also read a book and kept looking for more. I'm still not sure I got the whole book. Should have been at least another chapter or two.

  9. Something you said really struck me. "Since I've started writing books, I find I have far less of it to read. What little time I do have I want to feel worthwhile and enjoyable."

    That's exactly what's happened to me and I hadn't realized it until now. Since I've been writing, I have so little time. The authors I used to read and enjoy just don't do it for me anymore. I crave a book that takes me on an emotional rollercoaster and leaves me satisfied at the end.

  10. I much prefer to know how my story ends before I even begin writing. It makes it a lot easier to write toward that outcome. I don't watch TV crime dramas at all these days, because I think accuracy, especially accuracy of time-frame is distincly lacking. The one hour TV drama has huge limitations.

  11. Hey Drew, you're so right! The endings I hate are the standard mystery endings where all the loose ends get tied up in a conversation with no action. While that type of scene can be almost unavoidable, at times, when possible I'd much prefer to see a full-fledged scene where I'm involved in what's going on with the characters.

    Loose ends don't bother me when it sets up a sequel, but that's just my opinion. Nice post on the dilemma!


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