04/29/10 | On Writing | 2 Comments
There are a lot of endings in the world: end of the line, end of the road, death, birth (which is the end of your carefree life as you knew it). What I’m talking about is the end of a book (obviously, this is a writer’s blog after all!).
Many amazing books exist. I think I probably own about 450 books (and counting), have read a good handful of them, and enjoyed most. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that most writers don’t know where to end their book, and so it just sort of flatlines before fizzling out…
This is my biggest pet peeve, to read through an entire novel, be engrossed by it, and be left wanting when I finally close the covers. There’s no comparable disappointment.
You don’t need to end every book with a bang, because not all of them necessitate that. However, the ending should still be satisfying. Whether you’re going for suspenseful, uplifting, sad, horrifying, or that cliffhanger that lines up the next story, it needs to leave the reader (me) with a feeling that it was all worth it, the time and money I invested in your work. I WANT that happy sigh, the thrumming heart, the tear trickling down my cheek, the “oooohhhh” moment. I want to be ready for your next book with $20 in my hand, but many authors don’t get a second read from me.
I’m a book snob, I’ll admit it. My friend Dawn and I pick up books wherever we go (conferences, bookstores, wherever) and read the first lines aloud to each other. If it’s good (which it often isn’t), we’ll read the first paragraph. We rarely find books worthy of turning the page. But when we do, we’re already invested. We have to find out what happens.
It’s hard to maintain a reader’s attention throughout an entire novel, and some authors are better at it than others (by wide margins). Some authors have crawling starts, others suffer from the wicked saggy-taffy middle, and yet the lapse I find hardest to forgive is the weak ending.
One of the most lyrically written books I’ve ever read is The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. I heard the stories of an unknown author who managed to get a $2 million advance for his book that was heralded as the next Paradise Lost. Of course this was something I needed to read.
I was in absolute awe from the first page. His prose wasn’t just lyrical, it was magical. I found myself laughing as I read—not because it was funny, but because I couldn’t believe the way he manipulated our language. And yet, when I recommended it to a friend, I had to follow all that by… but the ending isn’t amazing. I felt obligated to tell her this so she wasn’t in for the letdown I experienced, and she agreed.
It didn’t have an “oooohhhh” ending. More like an… oh.
I’m not going to tell anyone how they should write their book. God knows I struggle with my own every day. The book might be shit for all I know, but what you won’t find in mine is a weak ending, which is something that I’m very conscious about.
Have you read any books that disappointed you in the end?
Kyle W. Kerr