Endings – How Important Are They? Do They Have to be Happy

endIn the past days , I’ve talked about book openings and middles in  my posts. This post talks about the other end of your book, the ending. It will briefly discuss the types of endings and the importance of choosing the right one for your book.

Just_Hanging_AroundLeaving the reader hanging – is it a good idea?

Many sources will tell you not to end your book with a cliffhanger. The reader needs some satisfaction or a happy ending to complete their reading experience. In my opinion, the answer to this is not quite that simple.

As someone who has written a series, I strive to make each book capable of being read as a standalone story. There is, however, a backstory arc for my main character that continues from book to book. What I like to do is resolve the current story within the book but provide a lead in to the next book.

There are some renowned novelists that are famous for vague endings in their novels. One that I’m familiar with is Elmore Leonard who is known for abruptly ending his novels and leaving the reader to contemplate where the characters ended up or how things turned out for them.

booksleepOver-telling the ending

Did you ever read a story where the author finishes the book with a lengthy epilogue explaining in great detail what happens to each character? Did you ever read a book up to the high intensity climax and the author just abruptly ends the story without giving any hint to what happens to the characters?

Both of these reading experiences can be frustrating for different reasons. The frustration caused by the abrupt ending is self-explanatory. Over-telling, however, can be just as annoying. Very often, the author disappoints the reader by giving a resolution or future outcomes for their characters that is less than satisfying to the reader.

Now, we’ve discussed the opening, the middle and the ending. What is the most troublesome part of finishing a book for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

31 thoughts on “Endings – How Important Are They? Do They Have to be Happy

  1. Interesting post, Don. I think readers want some sort of closure in their endings. I don’t mean an ending has to be happy, where everyone is all right again. I’ve seen some very successful dark endings to stories. But I think readers do want to know what happens to the characters. Some authors, as you’ve said, can be vague and do it well, but that takes special skill. Like you, I write crime fiction, so my endings are not ‘happily ever after’ – I mean, people die. But I do try to show that life goes on.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Margot. In my detective series, I try to have a small story arc within the book along with a longer story/character arc that spans the series and moves slowly. Jonathan Kellerman has done this with his Alex Delaware series and I enjoy the technique.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice topic. I always try for a “happy enough” or “Happy for now” type ending. Ever after seems absurd to me, because life always brings its struggles. I think it brings closure to that chapter of the character’s life, and readers can imagine whatever future they like.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Endings are hard. (Supernatural fans know that quote.) I used to say absolutely no cliffhangers. Now I don’t feel that way. They do entice a reader to move on in the series. I’m not a fan of extra-lengthy epilogues, although I do like to know what happens to people after the climax. Just not every detail of their lives for the next thirty years. (If it’s that good, write another book!) I don’t like the climax-then-drop-off, either. But I do kind of like those endings that make you wonder and speculate, especially in short stories. In a novel, not so much. I put too much time into reading it to not get a resolution. But in a short story, I like to bring my own opinion to the mix.

    Sorry, I know I was all over the place in that one. But like Chuck said, endings are hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for writing this great article! I have a habit of overtelling the ending in my stories and you’ve just made me realise that I need to moderate this in my upcoming novel. I had no idea I was making this mistake until I read the second part of your article! Your style of writing is clear and to the point, exactly what readers need. And this article is informative and educative for writers such as myself. Thank you for sharing your wisdom! Have a blessed week

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wrote a part 1 with a cliffhanger then life intervened and I’ve been slow getting Book 2 out. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but my readers do feel that lack of satisfaction. That said, despite the delay, they remain eager for the second installment.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We writers have to be careful not to let endings reflect our own personal feelings at reaching “The End.” That might explain some of the abrupt endings (“Whew, nailed that climax. I’m out!). The original ending for my latest book had an overly leisurely, relaxed tone that was just wrong. “Well, that’s over. Now for a rest.” A rewrite of the final chapter was in order.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  8. Pingback: Endings – How Important Are They? Do They Have to be Happy – Written By Don Massenzio – Writer's Treasure Chest

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