The End

Where should a writer end a book?  Should all loose-ends be tied up?  How about leaving a hook for another book?  Should a book end differently if it is part of a series versus a stand-alone novel?  Are there rules for this?

The last two novels I’ve read have left me a little unsatisfied at the end.  One book, the beginning of a trilogy, ended in the middle of a chase.  I chewed out the person who recommended the book to me (he can influence my job security, and I chewed him out anyway – that’s how mad I was).  Who ends a book during a chase?  The other book tied up every possible loose end to the point of absurdity.  This novel’s ending also had a few predictable elements (which isn’t always bad, but rubbed me a little wrong this time).  Not going to mention the books by name, or their authors.  I’m probably going to read the rest of the trilogy, and I love the author of the other novel.

A while back there was a book, second of a trilogy, which changed writing styles right at the end and summarized a lot of events instead of writing them out.  Based on that, and similar sections in the third book of that series, this author is off my “hot” list.  In my opinion, this particular series should have been four books, not three, with the extra book inserted between the second and third novels.  Perhaps this author was under a lot of pressure to put out books quickly, and chose expediency over quality of work.  It’s a shame, too, because her first novel of that series was one of the best that I have read.

I can name every book I’ve ever read that has had an unsatisfactory ending – the ending means that much.  We all (assumption here) would like to have good endings to our novels.  I’m no expert; I just know that some endings work and some don’t.  So, I’m going to ask a few questions.  You can contemplate on them, or answer them in the comments (I would love to learn from your experiences and thoughts).

As a writer:

  • How early do you start planning your ending?
  • Do you foreshadow the ending of your novel?
  • Do you purposefully make events in your novel lead up to the ending?
  • Do you tie off every loose-end or leave some as a hook?
  • Do you use any rules or metrics for how long your endings are?
  • Are your endings different for stand-alone novels than novels in a series?

As a reader:

  • What do you expect of endings when you are reading?
  • What do you dislike?
  • How many bad endings can you take from one author before you decide that’s enough?
  • Do you think a writer should ever rewrite and rerelease a book (like Lucas did with the original Star Wars movies)?

About R. Garrett Wilson

I am a member of the Stanislaus World Builders writing group and have participated in the FSFW writing group. I have written one drama that was based on the book of Mark and performed at my church in 2007. My story, Journeyer, is published in Analog Magazine and a novelette, The Bakrra Encounter, in the FSFW 2010 anthology, I Dreamed a Crooked Dream. I also took part in the community novel project, Stanislaus Reads and Writes, and have a chapter in their novel, Ashes in a Teardrop. Beyond writing, I enjoy road trips, photography, woodworking, watching tennis and cycling, and reading.
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3 Responses to The End

  1. Myrna Foster says:

    Wow. That’s a lot of questions. My very unhelpful answer to the reader end is that it’s okay for some authors not to wrap everything up in a series, as long as I feel like they’ve closed that part of the story. If all books ended the same way, it would bore me, and I like surprises. Whether or not I’ll pick up another book by a disappointing author depends on how badly the ending bothered me, and if the author has satisfied me with other endings. For instance, an author I’ve been reading for years ended her latest book in a terrible place (think last Harry Potter movie), and she hasn’t even written the sequel. One bad ending isn’t going to make me stop reading her books (especially since I love the story), but I won’t recommend the book to anyone until I’ve read the sequel. Actually, this writer could probably feed me cliffhanger endings for the rest of her life, and I’d keep reading because I’ve loved her stories so much.

    As a writer, I always have an idea of how the story will end, though that may change by the time I’ve written it. I do foreshadow and lead up to the ending. In fact, in Star Swans, my story begins and ends in the orchard. It just felt right. Sometimes I leave a hook. I don’t tidy every loose end. And I’m still new enough at this that I’m not sure I can answer the last two questions. Every story has been different.

    • Wow, I was hoping that people would reply to just a question or two, but you went all out. :)

      Yeah, I feel the same, for the most part, about the not having to wrap up everything in novels of a series. Since you brought up Harry Potter (in movie form), and that is pretty common ground for everyone, I will use them as an example (in book form). The first three Harry Potter novels seemed to come together pretty well at the end. The fourth one was quite a bit more open, but that was okay because that segment of the story was over and it built anticipation of the next novel. The last three novels seem to read more like one continuous story. I wasn’t happy with how books 5 and 6 ended, they were just too open for me (but by no means as bad as the recent novel I read). I kept reading though because I loved the characters and liked most of the story. I’m much more tolerable of a bad ending in a series than a stand-alone novel.

  2. These are great questions. They really make me think. I plan the ending as soon as I know the character and premise. It gives me something to work towards.

    As a reader, I hate rushed endings . . . when it feels like they just wanted to be done with the book so they add in crazy things to accomplish what they want. Annoys me to no end!

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