Endings – A to Z: E

E is for Endings. All good things must end, even our favourite books. (Though, thankfully, the ones that are part of a series only end temporarily….) Just like it is said that a fighter is only as good as his last fight, readers’ opinions about a book are often heavily influenced by the way it ends. A very good ending can salvage what may have seemed like an average-quality book when you realise that plot threads that didn’t make all that much sense at the time were just expertly woven into an intricate ending. Conversely, a book that was a great read but has a disappointing ending will leave you with that bitter feeling of disappointment as the last impression.

The End

There are many ways stories can end, from Hollywood-type happy endings to ones that destroy all the hopes the author made the reader build up for the main character(s). Books can end in a manner that makes it clear that this end was as final as it can be, or they can leave the details of what happens next up to the reader’s imagination in an open ending, or they can hint at a continuation in a sequel. Short stories typically have a twist of some sort at the end, all the better to the reader if she didn’t see them coming. Endings can be bittersweet; they can leave the reader wishing for a happier ending while understanding that it was perhaps more realistic the way it was.

(Aside: speaking of endings, have you discovered the End of the Internet yet?)

Which type of ending do you prefer as a reader? Would you rather weep with joy at a happy ending after the main character has been put through the wringer, or have a gritty, realistic ending, no matter the cost to the character? Do you like open endings, final endings, or “temporary” endings? If you’re a writer, do you want the best for your characters, or do you enjoy shocking your readers with their misfortune, or something in between? Let me know in the comments.

About Amos M. Carpenter

Web dev by day, author by night, and generally interested in (and opinionated about) way too many things.

Posted on 5 April, 2014, in A to Z Challenge, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. I’m a fan of the HFN (happy for now) ending, where the plot is tied up but it’s clear that the story goes on for these characters.

    That said, the end of the Chronicles of Narnia (in The Last Battle) makes me cry because it’s so beautiful, and that one’s about as final as they come. 🙂

    • I find it hard to nail down what type of ending I prefer in general, except that I don’t like open endings where it seems like the author, rather than wanting to make you think about what the ending could be, just wanted to avoid making the decision and took the easy way out. Maybe the main thing is that the ending needs to fit well into the story. If it does, I’m good with HFN endings 🙂

      You know, I really like fantasy and I really like series, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve never finished reading Narnia….

  2. Happy endings, I must have them. I read to escape real life where things usually don’t end all that nicely, I want the story I read to end happy after all the ups and downs. Kind of makes me feel optimistic 😀

    • I agree that happy endings can be nice, but I’ve read some endings that were bittersweet where I felt like anything different would not have been true to the story and its characters. I guess I want a variety of endings in a variety of books, but I get that escaping to a different world can be a wonderful thing, especially when you feel like everything is in order in that world when you leave it.

  3. I hate it when I have been completely involved in a book and it comes to an end – the one where you have read it in a matter of days because you just can’t put it down and then once you have finished it there is that sense of disappointment that it is all over.

    • That’s exactly why I prefer to let myself be drawn into a series rather than a standalone book. Not that “single-volume” books aren’t ever great, but in a way the reader makes an emotional investment in the characters while reading, and I’d rather invest in something long-term than a one-night stand with a book (ok, maybe not the best analogy, but hopefully you get what I mean).

  4. I’m a fan of happy endings, even if everything isn’t nicely tied up. They don’t have to be all happy, as long as overall it’s a good end to the story. I don’t like endings where the antagonist triumphs, which is probably why I hated Gone Girl.

    Everything doesn’t have to be perfectly explained, but if it’s too open ended, I’ll have to make up my own theories about what really happened or what happens afterward. Depending on the story that can be good or bad. For example, if Hugh Howey hadn’t written any follow up stories to Wool when it was just that one short story, I would have been furious and completely unsatisfied. Because he ended up writing more and I got the full explanation I needed, I really liked – loved – it as a whole.

    Happy A-to-Z-ing! Here’s my post for today: http://beccajcampbell.com/writing/2014e

    • I haven’t read Gone Girl, but thanks for the heads up, now I probably never will 😉

      Good point about not just the ending of a book, but also the continuation (or lack thereof) being able to influence how a reader feels about it.

      I had a look at your blog and liked it, but didn’t see any WordPress “Like” or “Follow” options – I’m guessing that’s intentional? (I don’t currently use facebook/twitter/G+ other than to (automatically) repeat my blog posts.)

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Becca!

      • Amos,

        Other people really enjoyed Gone Girl, but it drove me crazy. By the end of the book I knew I’d only be happy if most of the main characters died. I thought up a much better ending – too bad I didn’t write the book! 🙂

        To follow my blog, just click the link on the right side bar that says “email me with post updates.” Maybe I should reword it so it’s not confusing. You can also subscribe to my author newsletter which is right below that.

        Thanks for coming to visit!

  5. Great post! Readers often say the meat of my story was only above average but the endings are fantastic. I think my plot threads are sometimes invisible until right at the end when they all make sense. Complex and intricate plots are one of my favorite elements of writing, but I can’t figure out how to make them meaningful in the middle without drawing unnecessary attention or giving away a major point too early. I guess that’s what we’re all doing on the internet! Thanks for the great post! rsmccoy.blogspot.com

    • Thanks, R.S. 🙂

      What makes the “meat of a story”, as you so aptly put it, good for me is that the story gets me emotionally invested at some level. That can be because I loathe the main character and want to see him or her fail miserably, or because I like and/or can identify with him or her. In my writing, I strive for believability, allowing (positive) characters to have flaws. Including character development, I find, can make that “meat” much more digestible for the reader.

      As for complex plots and not giving it away too early, I think you need to have a mix of entertaining diversions that lead the reader in the wrong direction and some tidbits and scraps you throw them to allow some of them to (at least partially) guess the twist. If the ending is a complete surprise to even the most attentive reader, the twist may not be as well received as when you allow them that “Aha! I thought so!” moment.

  6. Stopping by on the 6th day of the #challenge, Congratulations on your blog. I’m writing about gardening and related topics if you have time or interest. Come see me.

    • Thanks Stepheny. My thumbs are all sorts of colours, but not all that green, I’m afraid (I did have a look at a couple of the more writing-related posts). However, I’ve told my wife about it and she’ll go check it out (right after she’s finished planting her new little guava tree).

  7. Getting the ending right can be so tough. Nice to follow and connect http://aimingforapublishingdeal.blogspot.co.uk/

  8. As a hopeless idealist, I really am a sucker for happy endings!

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