Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Endings, Part 2: The End Method

Yesterday I wrote about the specifics of last lines of books. Today let's talk about endings in general.

I personally like endings that tie up the story, resolve all outstanding issues, and leave me satisfied, like I’ve just eaten a large meal with mashed potatoes and cheese. Delicious. My husband likes endings that are unconventional. He always cites The Last American Virgin, a movie I admit I've never seen. He says it's about some guys who try to lose their virginity, but one guy doesn't make it happen. He ends up not ever losing it. My husband thinks this is a good ending because you never expect it. I think it's stupid because what kind of story is that? Nothing has changed! What was the lesson learned? (Again, I might have more perspective if I'd actually seen it, but you get my point.)

Some people hate cliff-hanger endings, or endings where the end isn't quite explained, but left there for you to put together. The Crimson Petal and the White, an amazing and beautiful novel by Michel Faber, ends abruptly. You never know what happens to the characters, although you can imagine. (This obviously annoyed other readers, because Faber just released The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories, a sequel of sorts. One of the reader reviews on Amazon says "For those annoyed by the abrupt ending of Michel Faber's Crimson Petal and the White, this will hopefully be somewhat soothing. While not a linear sequel, there are glimpses of the later lives of Agnes, William, Sugar and Sophie."

See?

So what kind of ending is a good ending to you? What do you hate? Are there any examples of endings done particularly well? How do you feel about epilogues? (I like them for books I love and don't want to end, but there's no question they feel "extra.")

8 comments:

CKHB said...

Well, obviously I don't completely mind an abrupt ending, if done right, since one of my favorite endings left in the comments section was from a Bret Easton Ellis novel that ends MID-SENTENCE. But that ending served that book well. It's not supposed to have a nice tidy ending; that would be trite and timid, given the rest of the book.

On the other hand, plenty of books feel like they end too abruptly because they fail to fulfill a promise made to the reader. Let's take Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels as an example. At the end of the film, all the challenges set forth at the beginning and middle of the movie have been resolved... but at the very last minute, a final challenge is thrown at the characters, and the movie ends without us getting to see which path the characters take. It works for me as a cliff-hanger/unsolved ending, because it DOESN'T MATTER which path is taken. Either way, all the original promises were fulfilled, and all emotional conflicts were resolved. Of course the characters will go on to have adventures after this tale is over, and the final unsolved ending just encourages you to think about those possibilities more actively than a standard "and they all lived happily ever after" ending would have done.

I do hate books that kill off a character at the end simply to shock you or to be "daring." Often, it's a cheap trick to avoid dealing with a harder plot line that would result if the character lived. Stephen King has killed off beloved characters at the end of novels in a way that serves the story (it's an important sacrifice, for example) but other authors do it for NO DAMN REASON and it makes me so angry.

Tina Lynn said...

I'm kind of torn on this subject. While I appreciate a nice tidy ending, even when sequels will abound, I have to admit that the cliffhanger is quite effective. I'm still dying to know what happens in the third book of the Hunger Games series. Harry Potter wrapped up each story nicely, though the war is not over, the battle is in each individual book. I guess I don't mind the cliffhanger if I know I won't be left hanging there indefinitely. Otherwise, I want everything, all plot threads, tied into a cute little bow at the end. Sorry, messy endings are for REAL life.

Lizzy Mason said...

Great post! I don't like cliff hangers, or non-endings where you are supposed to draw your own conclusions. It feels like cheating to me--like the author couldn't handle making a decision so they'll just let the reader's imagination do it for them. Unless I know there's going to be a sequel, that truly annoys me.

That being said, I'm a fan of the epilogue because an author can do their non-ending to get it out of his/her system, and then throw us readers a bone by letting us know what really happened.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Ladies, do you think it depends on the genre? It might for me--I don't think I would take to an ending in women's fiction that is a cliffhanger!

Tina Lynn said...

I know that Stephen King got hate mail for his ending to The Dark Tower series. Did I like it? No, it really ticked me off. Did I send hate mail? No, because it was a very Stephen Kingish type of ending...and after careful consideration I realized that the ending didn't make as much difference to me as the telling. Book 4 was my favorite. I never would have read it if I wasn't trying to get to the ending.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Ahhh....Stephen King endings are another beast altogether. Don't get me wrong, I like Stephen King and have read most of his books. But in a few of them, it seems like he got tired and had to use a deus ex machina, as in the case of IT where he ended it with giant alien turtles and spiders from outer space. Oh, Stephen. And I think he did something similar with a giant spider in both Rose Madder and Dreamcatcher!

Travener said...

I'm ambivalent. Sometimes I like endings that don't tie things up nicely bu leave things hanging and/or completely unexplained. Other times, that frustrates the hell out of me. Like the ending to 2001 (the movie). I hated that. My own book ties up every loose thread and has a surprise twist ending -- but which on reflection is entirely consistent with the protagonist's character.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I'm on the fence with epilogues. Usually, they're just not a satisfying end to me.

Ps. I have a gift for you on my blog... :)

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