Recently, in a discussion with other authors, there was much controversy whether they had an ending in mind when they started writing their book. Now, I know I want a satisfying ending but how I’ll get there is about as foggy as my bathroom after a long hot shower. Who is to say you should have the ending all figured out? Each writer is different, which is a good thing, or books truly would be boring.
But here’s the thing – what do we consider ‘satisfying?’ The hero and hero kiss and ride off into the sunset? The hero dies, but the heroine now understands the depth of his love – and why he had to die? Perhaps it’s the heroine who dies in the arms of her lover, happy to have known love.
I’m a believer of the ‘satisfying ending’ . . . but there comes occasion when I have to divert this scenario. My Tango of Death Series is a great example of not being able to finish the book at ‘the end,’ in both books one and two. Book one, Gypsy Spirit, tells the story of a Gypsy girl who takes it upon herself to document the truth about the atrocities happening to her people during the Holocaust . . . yet – she has two sisters who have gone their own way, struggling to survive – and, therefore, there are two more books to follow (Partisan Heart and Jewish Soul). I had to weave a story that would encourage or even better yet, make the reader care enough to want to know about her sisters in book two and three. And I’ll be honest – both endings for books one and two shocked the crap outta me! I did not know they would end the way they did. There is no one who appreciates ‘surprise’ more than me! Even the ending for book three, Jewish Soul, turned into quite the surprise – and believe me I worried I had written myself into a bleak corner with no way out. But my characters stayed true and showed me the way.
I’ll be honest – when writing the last pages of Jewish Soul . . . I was crying. If I feel a story to the depths of my soul – I do believe my reader will feel it. I only know that my characters have a way of leading me through their journey, sharing with me their reactions, feelings, and growth along the way. I let them tell their story through my fingertips.
So why do writers struggle with their endings? I’m not sure I can answer that. But I do know one thing – you can’t force an ending. This might be where the problem is coming from. Characters don’t like to be manipulated. If you’re struggling to find an ending . . . backtrack and see if you’re heading your characters in the wrong direction. Maybe you missed a clue they gave you – or you haven’t resolved all the issues that arose during the story and your character(s) want you to reconsider. Don’t force it; you won’t like how it feels or how it ends. If that is the case – don’t submit it until you fix it.
Know when to quit. I think this was a problem years ago – more than today with the shorter page limits. When a book was 95,000 to 130,000 words it had to really cover a lot of territory. Many stories could have been told in half the number of words, but didn’t because of that horrendous word count. I’ve read many books where I’ve thought, this book should have ended right here. I wouldn’t be surprising if the writer knew that too. It’s a grievous error to create one . . . two . . . or even three places your book could have ended. Once the issues are resolved and the struggle is over – so is the story. Follow the rule, less is more.
I think the most grievous of endings is the ambiguous one. It reeks of amateur or beginning writer. No reader wants to have the ending left up to their imagination. There is no resolution . . . as a matter of fact they want the ending to be a bit of a surprise or even a tear jerker – but ‘you decided?’ Never! The reader expects an ending – give them one!
Do not give your reader the ‘contrived resolution’ that was never foreshadowed anywhere - the ‘red herring’ so to speak. It infuriates me, the reader, and I will never read another book by that author, because I feel tricked.
The reader has expectations. The resolutions at the end of the book must not disappoint . . . just don’t make it so obvious that it becomes a yawner. Build intensity, giving your reader a lot of anticipation for the ending. Never leave them disappointed – satisfaction will keep them thinking about your book for years to come. It will also make the reader look for other books you’ve written . . . so they can be satisfied again . . . and again!