Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ending Badly

"Everything ends badly. Otherwise, they wouldn't end."
Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan in Cocktail

Everyone loves beginnings. In fact, I think many authors, perhaps even most authors, lavish more time crafting the perfect opening than they spend on any other part of the process. There are contests and memes devoted to the best opening lines, the most memorable opening lines, the most classic opening lines--you name it. Ask anyone who really cares about books and I'll bet they have a favorite. Endings, on the other hand, rarely get the same respect and I'm not altogether certain why that is. 

As a reader, I would think the end of a book is at least as important as the beginning. Maybe more so. After all, it's what you take away with you. It's the last impression you're left with, the last glimpse  you're allowed of characters that you've--hopefully--come to know and love. Yet, too often I find myself unsatisfied with the way a book ends. Even good books! Too often they just...end.  I don't know how many times lately I've reached the end of a book and kept scrolling downward, certain that there must be more. 

I suppose this is in part because writers have it drummed into their heads that beginnings are what sell books; and in part because, while there are plenty of writing classes that focus on creating powerful openings, I don't think I've ever seen one that focuses on powerful endings. 

As a result, too many endings seem forced, disconcerting or simply too abrupt. And so,  if I may paraphrase a line from The Princess Bride, there's a shortage of perfect endings in the world. Which is a shame, really, because there's very little that's better than the satisfaction you experience when you close the book on an ending that feels just right.

So what about you? Do you have any favorite or memorable ending lines? Any books that ended perfectly, or badly? Or don't you care?


Cara Bristol said...

I agree! Many books end too abruptly for my tastes. Once the goal has been achieved, the hero gets the girl--that's the end. Yet you've read through an entire book just for that moment.

An abrupt ending in a novel would be the equivalent of a man leaping out of bed, pulling on his pants and rushing out the door immediately after orgasm. A reader needs some cuddling!

When the goal in a novel has been achieved, I want the hero and heroine to talk about it a little more. That's one reason why I like epilogues.

Meg Benjamin said...

Good topic, PG! I think endings are tough to write, or anyway they are for me. Particularly in romance, where you can't really have much of a surprise (unlike mysteries that have surprises out the wazoo). Do you end with a cliche? A wisecrack? You don't really want to end with "And they lived happily ever after," but boy sometimes it's tempting!

PG Forte said...

Cara--yes, that's exactly it! I want that little bit more at the end, the literary equivalent of spooning. If I'm reading romance I know going in that there will be a HEA or HFN but once the characters get to that point, I want a chance to savor the moment with them before the door's slammed shut in my face.

And, yeah...that metaphor kinda ran away from me there. lol!

Meg--oh, please, your endings are damn near perfect. Venus and Brand New Me in particular are as good as it gets. Not that there's a single thing wrong with your other endings, it's just that they fall more in the "where the hell is the next book in this series, I want it now!" end of the perfect ending spectrum.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Oh very interesting!! You are so right PG, endings don't get the attention they deserve. There's nothing like putting down a book you've just finished with a feeling of joy and satisfaction. That's what it is for me -satisfaction. But I really need to think about what it is that makes it so satisfying - and then try to do it!

Kinsey Holley said...

I suck at endings. Mine are cheesy.

I used to read every Richard Jury novel Martha Grimes wrote. One of the later ones ended so abruptly I went back to the bookstore to make sure my copy wasn't defective. The book ended on a cliffhanger, with Jury bleeding in an alley, and the last line was, IIRC, him thinking something and then .... as he passed out. But it was jarring and weird.

I like romances that end on a wisecrack, myself. Haven't come up with one yet.

Meg Benjamin said...

Kinsey--one Kerry Greenwood Phrynne Fisher book ended so abruptly I wondered the same thing--did they leave something out. And the answer was, yes they did! For some reason the American version (Greenwood's Australian) was missing the ending which actually wrapped up the mystery!