Endings are tricky beasts, aren’t they?
Beginnings are dead easy. I’ve sat in writing classes and written dozens of beginnings, usually with no previous idea of what to write, and often done within a six-minute time limit. Some are better than others, but most could become the start of a story or even a novel.
But endings are another matter. Short story endings need to neatly finish off the story, include the twist, or link back to the beginning, or show the ‘universal truth’ your story is trying to illustrate. Novel endings need to tie up loose ends, leave your characters in a good place, and satisfy your reader. And they mustn’t end too soon – I think novels need a winding-down scene or two, where the main action has finished, to allow the reader to say their farewells to the characters they’ve lived with for the past few days or weeks.
I was looking through the reviews I’ve had for my novel, The Emerald Comb, earlier today. It’s been well received with (to date) 48 four and five star reviews, but there are a handful of three, two and one star reviews as well. The one thing the lower rankings have in common is that they all criticise the ending. They say the ending seemed rushed, and that things were left not quite resolved leaving the reader feeling perhaps disappointed or frustrated.
I find this very interesting, because (and this is a bit of a spoiler, so if you haven’t read it but would like to, skip reading this paragraph) nothing is kept from the reader. There’s no unresolved plot line. By the end of the novel, the reader knows the full truth of what happened. However, the main character Katie does not know everything. I wrote it like this on purpose – one of the themes of the novel is that no amount of research can necessarily uncover the full and complete truth of what happened in the past. If your ancestors really wanted to hide a secret, they probably could, and you’d never know. After exhausting all research angles the best you can do is make an educated guess or conjecture. And that’s what Katie is left with, although the reader knows everything. In my mind the story is resolved, but perhaps the critical reviewers identified so much with Katie they didn’t see it that way! (I’ll take that as a compliment on my skills at characterisation then.)
Some of the other reviews praise the ending for being realistic, and one reviewer stated she was glad I went for the ending I did, rather than the more predictable alternative which some might have expected. There’s someone who really ‘got’ what I was trying to do!
You can never please everyone, but it has made me think hard about the ending I had in mind for my current work in progress, which is another tale of genealogical mysteries. How can I stay true to my themes and yet be careful not to disappoint readers? I think there’s a fine line I need to tread here. Hope I can get it right!
Thankfully, no one’s criticised the ending of The Pearl Locket (so far). Although a number of people have told me it had them reaching for a tissue…
Kath – you’re never going to please everyone with your ending, so go with your gut instinct and the one that feels right for you and your characters!
Absolutely! Need to try to please the majority of readers though.
A mountain of advice in just that second para, Kath, and fascinating thoughts on the writing of those wonderful novels -hugely helpful as always -thank you!
Keith Havers said:
I often agonise for weeks about my short story endings before sending them off. I know what I want to do but I have trouble finding the words.
Short story endings are often even harder as you have so few words to play with yet so much to do in that last paragraph. At least with a novel you can ramble on for a bit if need be…