Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The End


"Story endings are hard to write - often much harder than beginnings. Any author who wants to be published must understand how to write a book with a powerful ending."
~ Marg McAlister




This is where I'm currently living in my revision coma: the pre-climax, climax, resolution phase. The oh-my-gosh-endings-are-totally-not-my-strength phase. Yes, the book was finished. Yes, I do have my fabulous agent. Yes, I'm still re-writing the ending. And  because my brain is stuck in ending mode right now, what better topic for today's post?

For my benefit and yours, here are a few "no-no" tips about endings. According to Marg McAlister, there are four main BAD endings that will get your hand slapped by agents and publishers everywhere (from "Write a Story Ending That Will Satisfy Readers"):


1.) The Story Ending That Is Too Good to be True  
The underdog not only wins through but is suddenly popular, rich and powerful. The ugly duckling swaps glasses for contact lenses, ditches the frumpy hairdo, loses weight, dresses better and marries the 'prince'. The author's mantra here should be "the hero can end up with what he MOST wants, but not EVERYTHING he wants."

2.) The Story Ending That Goes On... and On... and On  
Build up to the story climax, write the final powerful scene, then get out of there. Any scenes that follow the story resolution should be short so they don't detract from the ending. Part of a writer's craft lies in understanding how to tie up various plot threads ahead of time, so they are not faced with having to explain it all right at the end.

3.) The Story Ending That Leaves Unanswered Questions  
Sometimes the author deliberately leaves the reader wondering what happened as a device to sell the next book in a series. This ploy probably works for popular, established authors, but it results in a lot of unhappy readers. They really don't want to wait a year for the next book to tell them what happened. If the author is not so well known, the reader might not bother buying the next book at all.

In other cases, the author fails to answer questions simply because they've forgotten. In the race to finish the book (Hooray! It's done at last!) they've missed resolving some 'minor' point. Unfortunately, readers usually keep turning pages because they're curious about what happened... and this applies to lesser plot elements as well as the main story question. By keeping a plot notebook, authors can help to eliminate this problem. A story timeline can include all questions that need to be answered by the end of the book.

4.) The Story Ending That Kills off the Main Character  
Authors who kill off the main character (or let them die from some ailment) will defend their decision to the end: "In real life, people die. Life's not always perfect," or "He had to die to be true to the story."
Some readers agree and don't mind the main character dying (even if they shed a tear or two) but readers treat it as the ultimate betrayal. They have identified with this character; they have lived in his skin; they have viewed the world through his eyes; they have felt what he feels. The main character's death is like a death in the family. Authors who want to sell the novel and to win readers should give careful thought to the fate of the main character.

So, what do you think . . .
Do you agree? Or are there any you disagree with?


22 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

I know you're going to have an awesome ending. You can do it!

The hardest part of the endings is the very end where everything's tied up but you want to go out with a bang. At least for me.

I think for trilogies, unanswered questions are needed at the end. And I've seen debut authors like Andrea Cremer leave even their first books with a big cliffhanger that has worked well.

Theresa Milstein said...

Good luck with the rest of your revisions.

I agree with your list. An ending needs to resolve some main threads, but not all. Even if it's a series, there have to be some good resolutions. I've read the first of books destined to be a series, and have decided not to bother with the rest when the endings leave too much hanging.

Killing off an MC is tricky. After all, it's about growth. Death isn't a very satisfying resolution. I've read one YA where it worked--there really was no other way to end it that would've felt right. But I was still bummed about it.

Most endings aren't too trite. I've seen that in manuscripts I've critiqued more than books.

Hope you find your satisfying ending!

Laura Pauling said...

I totally agree. A cliff hanger is different than leaving unaswered questions. I just fixed my novel so almost all the questions were answered!

Old Kitty said...

I think killing off your MC sometimes works - I think! I can only think of classic texts though - like Madame Bovary and Sherlock Holmes (although he didn't really die...!).

Thanks for this list though - definitely something to keep in mind when reaching The End! Take care
x

Matthew MacNish said...

I've seen number 4 done well only once. It really made the book incredible, though.

Barbara Watson said...

You can do it, Shannon! Although endings are so very tough. I'm still working on mine too. Number 3 is what I'm working through right now.

Gina C said...

great post! reminds me of the quote you always hear at conferences:

great beginnings are what sell your book. great endings are what sell your next book.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

So true. I can't imagine how hard it is to write. You want closure but I also having somethings left to the imagination and not wrapped too neatly.

Slamdunk said...

Good topic Shannon.

Killing off your MC is a difficult call. I think if the MC does get axed it puts more pressure on the author to defend why and make it work.

Robyn Campbell said...

Agree, agree, agree! With all of them. I like leaving one question though. I like to leave it to the readers fantastic (MG'ers have fab imaginations) imaginings. They see so much in their minds eye. Have a great day, bff. *waving*

Meredith said...

I can't stand books where the MC dies at the end! I definitely feel betrayed when that happens. My endings tend toward the way too happy side--I need to keep you advice in mind!

K. Turley (Clutzattack) said...

If a book series is already completed before I start reading, I'll sometimes cheat and look to see if the MC's name appears at the end.

When the hero dies, it can be like saying goodbye to a beloved pet.

Patti said...

My first ending, left things too unresolved, so I had to fix that.

I think, just like the beginning, you can end in the wrong spot. Either too soon or not soon enough. That's why this writing thing is so hard, there are no definitive answers.

Good luck with writing The End.

Elana Johnson said...

I know you will find a way to nail the end. I'm half and half. I don't think all questions need to be answered in the book. I love THE GIVER, and refuse to read any of the "sequels" because I know how the book ended in my mind.

I also don't agree that the MC can't die at the end. (Surprise, surprise, coming from me, right? ;)) I read a book recently where the narrating MC died and it was FABULOUS. Perfect. Exactly what the book needed.

So yeah. I agree 50% of the time. Ha!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I know you're going to rock your ending! (And then you can take a much deserved break, right?)

I agree with all of those rules, except the last. Historical fiction often focuses on a real person and often the natural conclusion is the death of that person. It doesn't have to be, but there are a ton of great historical fiction books that kill off the MC.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Endings can be tricky. In my first book I ended with a cliffhanger. I'll never, never, never do that again. Readers like satisfying endings.

And the endings that go on and on are not for me.

I hope I've found a happy medium.

Good luck with your ending.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

OMG endings! ENDINGS! They are so, so hard. It took me forever to figure out how to do even a passable job. Much easier to learning beginnings, and those are really hard. :) I agree with all your points, and my stars! Killing off the MC?? I'm an evil author, but that's just wrong.

Ishta Mercurio said...

You're going to write a fabulous ending - I know it.

As far as your list goes, I think if you're writing a series, you have to give the reader a reason to buy the next book, but the main plot points need to be wrapped up. I think there are skillful ways to leave a couple of loose ends, but you have to do it well, otherwise you will end up ticking off your readership. I've read books that do it well, and I've read books that do it badly.

DL Hammons said...

I will never agree with the authors argument for #4. If I wanted to read about real-life I'd pick up a newspaper and read the obituary! :)

Heather said...

These are great. I think in #3's case though, if there is going to be a sequel, a few unanswered questions are alright. But that's a preference thing. Some people hate cliffhanger endings, I love them. #4, I say if it's organic to the story and characters, then it's what must happen. We can't control the story just because we want it to end warm and fuzzy.

The Golden Eagle said...

I'm not good with endings, either; my stories always seem to go out with a whimper.

I don't mind if the main character dies in a story or there are still unanswered questions--it's "too good to be true" ones that really bother me.

Good luck with your ending!

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