JWAM reader request no. 18: Endings

Becca says:

You’ve mentioned that Ms. Austen ended Pride and Prejudice too abruptly. I have this problem in my writing, too. When the protag’s problem is solved, I end it. Let it go. I would love to know your suggestions about rounding out a story/book instead of letting it drop off (I may leave readers wondering if there were supposed to be more pages that somehow didn’t get printed). Any great ideas?

I’m not sure I have any suggestions though I’d love to hear those of other writers. Anyone out there know how to write perfect endings?

You guessed it—the most frequent complaint about all four of my published novels is that I’m no good at endings. Ironically, the thing that annoys me most about many of my favourite novels is their endings.

Endings are the hardest thing in the world.

No matter how much I think I’ve nailed it, tied up all the loose endings, delivered the coup de grace, someone always disagrees.

Now it could be that I suck at endings. I suspect that I do. It could also be that we all have different expectations about endings.

The reason I think Austen rushed the finish of Pride and Prejudice is because she shifts from showing to telling. There are no details about the weddings or about the first few days or weeks of their married life as they learn to live with each other. Me the reader wants Austen to continue showing for at least ten or twenty or thirty years of Elizabeth’s & Darcy’s & everyone else in that book’s lives.

I’m mad at the ending because I don’t want there to be an ending.

What the reader wants and what the writer wants are sometimes—perhaps even often—not the same. As a reader I want to know EVERYTHING ever that happens to every single character in books I love. As a writer the idea of doing that appalls me. You can’t tie off every single thing. If you did you’d wind up writing the one book for forty years. And it would be UNREADABLY huge. Also you’d leave no room for your readers to ponder and imagine and make the book their own.

Then there’s the fact that conventions change over time. I’ve been watching a vast number of movies from the 1930s lately and I’m always struck by how abruptly they end. Girl and boy figure out they do like each other and bingo THE END appears on screen and the movie’s over. No hint of what anyone else thinks of this, sometimes no kiss, and mostly no credits.1

It’s very disorienting to be thrown out of the story so abruptly because we’re used to more drawn out endings, not to mention long credits that give you time to mull over what you’ve just seen. That’s one of the reasons I always put my acknowledgments at the back of the book. Gives you a little bit more to read something that’s kind of sort of related to what you’ve just read. You can pretend the book’s not finished yet.

Though it could be that they had it right back in the thirties and we’re now faffing about.

Hmmm, I’m not sure how helpful that was, Becca. You have my best wishes and condolences. Just remember that no book ever—no matter how popular or acclaimed—has an ending that satisfies everyone.

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

  1. They were usually at the beginning back then. []


  1. Becca on #

    Thanks for the good post – maybe commiseration was just what I was looking for!

  2. Justine on #

    Commiserations are a large part of what you need as a writer. Glad the post helped.

  3. Justine on #

    Joey-la: Yes, a lot of those old movies are just nuts. I mean, I love them, but the endings . . . It’s like they’ve told most of the story, and then, oh, woops, we have run out of money and will stop shooting now. The End.

    P.S. What a co-incidence: they’re my two favourite cities in the world too! Though I’m very fond of Melbourne and looking forward to spending a week there. See you at the launch! (Don’t forget to remind me that we bonded over the quickness of old movie endings.)

  4. Joey-la on #

    Hi Justine,
    just to let you know I’m reading Magic Lessons at the moment, and really enjoying it! I’ve also read all of Scott’s books and loved them too.

    I totally agree with you about movies from the late to mid 1900’s. A few days ago I watched ‘The 39 Steps’ with my Mum (or Mom as Americans say, I’m from Melbourne, and am hoping to go to the launch of HTDYF in Febuary) , and I really wanted to know what happened after the movie ending so quickly. All they did was tell you the secret the whole movie was about, and then it finished!
    I think it’s strange, the reader or viewer can imgaine things even if they told us a little bit more.

    Also, I think the endings in Magic or Madness is good! I can’t say about the others becuase I haven’t read them yet!

    From Joey

    P.S, I am so jelous that you live in Sydney and New York, they are my 2 favorite cities in the world!!

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