I was invited out to lunch yesterday, and afterwards, standing in the kitchen washing up as another guest helped dry the dishes, we chatted about this and that but mainly books. and she spoke about something she had just read which had such a disappointing ending that it made her really cross! She didn’t tell me what the book was because we deviated away from that particular one, to talk in general about how really, really frustrating it is when a book has an unsatisfactory ending.
A satisfactory ending isn’t necessarily a happy ending, it isn’t necessarily a ‘closed’ ending, by which I mean ‘…and they all lived happily ever after…’, it isn’t necessarily the ending the reader would have hoped for, but it is an ending where the events have finished, the situations resolved, the characters sorted and ready to move on in their imaginary after-life beyond ‘THE END’. The reader closes the book with a contented sigh and although maybe sorry that what they had so enjoyed has finished, they do not feel cheated or let down.
Favourite characters can not end up with the partner the reader may hope for, or in a positive situation, in fact, there can even be a death at the end of a novel, as long as it fits and seems right, and doesn’t just seem a sensational ‘going out with a bang’ for the sake of it, or because the writer is fed up with them, or because the writer doesn’t know what else to do. In my opinion it is almost like children writing stories which end ‘…and I woke up and it was all a dream…’
Situations, dilemmas, puzzles and mysteries cannot be solved by an unforeseen arrival of a previously unknown character or fact… the reader must have been given a context for the conclusion to be believable within its own little world, or be carried along by the plot and characters and narrative so that ending is utterly plausible within that story.
I really struggle to make sure my endings are as good as I can make them… I had some very wise advice from a good friend about one of my novels, which she thoroughly enjoyed but thought the ending was too rushed; all was resolved, the puzzles unpicked, the dilemmas resolved, an action-packed penultimate episode, and all revealed, the history of what led to the situation revealed, but… it all happened to quickly… it was as if she’d had a great meal and had only just finished her coffee when the waiter was clearing the table and shooing her out of the restaurant then firmly closing the door on her with a ‘the end’ sign hanging in the window.
I paid great attention to her comments, and in the subsequent novels I have worked really hard to have a ‘proper’ ending. Now I am approaching the end of my next novel, and piece by piece the different story lines are resolved, the mysterious lama explained, the identity of the person who lays lilies on a grave revealed, the upset in the family resolved, and the missing people found… but how to properly end it, how to complete it, how to make sure the reader is left satisfied at the end? … needs a lot of thought and a lot of work!