The dos and don'ts of novel endings

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The Dos and Don'ts of Novel Endings is an interesting article, though some of the points are contradictory. By coincidence, there was a feature on novel endings in the Passive Voice newsletter this morning—I recommend subscribing as it's one of the best writing blogs around:

Last Lines | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

Generally, with writing advice, there's too much emphasis placed on making the opening lines, paragraphs and pages attention-grabbing. Few experts comment on endings. I've read several novels recently, where I longed for the damned thing to finish, for the author had plainly given up after the climax of the plot and was looking for a way out like a hamster in a maze. A satisfying ending, that also offers some sense of intrigue and continuation in the life of the protagonist will make a reader recall the author's name better than a weak conclusion that dribbles down the drain into obscurity.

I'd suggest that there could be a difference in how the ending of a stand-alone novel ties things up and the way that a story, which is part of a series, leaves a few doors open in bidding adieu to the hero. It's something that I've had to consider in my four Cornish Detective novels, so much so that it's become a long term form of foreshadowing for my detective protagonist. His state-of-mind at the end of one novel carries over to the next investigation.
 
I sometimes wonder if endings should happen sooner. You know, like the way it is suggested we open the first chapter later than we'd like to start, right in the middle of the action. I'm not keen on closing pages where everything is tied up neatly and predictably, one loose thread after another.

The most intriguing ending is one concealed a few chapters before the actually ending in Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus, an ending we are told about in the opening pages but that makes no sense until a small crucial piece of information is let slip much later.
 
...I'm not keen on closing pages where everything is tied up neatly and predictably, one loose thread after another.

The most intriguing ending is one concealed a few chapters before the actually ending...

Yeah, I totally agree with this, and I certainly tend to practice it too. Having everything neatly conclude on the final page is not only trite, its just unrealistic. More than that, I often want to see after the credits role, if you know what I mean. Sure, you fended off the alien invasion and saved the world, but who cleans up where the spaceship you shot down crash landed? Did you all go out for margaritas later? Didn't anyone have questions?
(I say all this hoping beyond hope that no one here has read my first ever book...:oops:)
 
I had a quick look (not a sharp look) on Wikipedia - admittedly your profile pic is soft focus but there is a certain physical resemblance...

I actually did have a beard to rival his, but I got annoyed with it and it went for the chop. I could grow it back, but I don't have the thin, taught look going on that he does. Nor an obsession with medieval combat, but who am I to judge?

Jokes aside, Stephenson, to me, is possibly the greatest wordsmith who ever lived. His ability with words is just staggering. But his plots...good grief. Not one of his (mind-bogglingly gigantic) books actually has a satisfying ending; half don't end at all, they just stop.
Anyway, I digress...
 
@AgentPete once told me off about looking at the last page of a novel before I buy, as well as the first page and the blurb. Cheating! :)

But, same with film, I really don't give a damn about spoilers. The last page tells me whether it's going to be worth my time, and what I want to find out is...how does this story get there, to that ending? The wending, steepening path and the HOW will contain all the surprises I need for enjoyment.
 
And funny things happen along the way, don't they? My first and even my second thought aren't necessarily my best thoughts. I find sometimes characters say unexpected things, fall in or out of love, and ten minutes of inspired writing can change the direction of the fiction if not the ending.

I find it gives me confidence at the beginning to have that 'road map' and know where I'll end up. I put down two lines as a synopsis or motivation to remind me why I want to write this story, what makes me feel 'this is the one,' and why it is a story others would want to read. But then I throw caution to the winds if something more exciting pops up around the corner.
 
So, on what basis would one choose a book? Just the cover? Fair enough - we've covered that somewhere else recently. First pages too.

And the ending? I never look at that.

I've given up trying to choose new books to read as I always get it wrong. Instead, I have taken to rampaging around Waterstones with a paintball gun, shooting wildly until security subdue me. The item I hit last gets bought and read while I await trial. Its a lengthy process, but it seems to work for me.
 
So, on what basis would one choose a book? Just the cover? Fair enough - we've covered that somewhere else recently. First pages too.

And the ending? I never look at that.


Aha! Why not? Does no-one else here take a look at the last page before buying?

I think of great first lines. Yes, some have always stuck. But so have last lines.
 
Aha! Why not? Does no-one else here take a look at the last page before buying?

I think of great first lines. Yes, some have always stuck. But so have last lines.

No and I shun anyone who does! Shun, I say!

My partner does this, skipping ahead in books or reading spoilers for movies online. Drives me to distraction.

You are bad people and you should feel bad!
 
The worst ending of a crime novel I've encountered revealed the murderer to be a character that hadn't appeared in the story up until that point! I've stricken the author's name and book title from my mind, but I recall feeling cheated. Granted, in real life police investigations, the culprit might well be someone that the detectives hadn't considered, but in a novel things have to make sense.
 
The worst ending of a crime novel I've encountered revealed the murderer to be a character that hadn't appeared in the story up until that point! I've stricken the author's name and book title from my mind, but I recall feeling cheated. Granted, in real life police investigations, the culprit might well be someone that the detectives hadn't considered, but in a novel things have to make sense.
LOL? Murder from offstage? Well, its different... o_O
 
The worst ending of a crime novel I've encountered revealed the murderer to be a character that hadn't appeared in the story up until that point! I've stricken the author's name and book title from my mind, but I recall feeling cheated. Granted, in real life police investigations, the culprit might well be someone that the detectives hadn't considered, but in a novel things have to make sense.


I bet you felt cheated. Wot a cheat! That is plain bounderish writing! Cad, bounder, deus ex machina rotter.
 
The worst ending of a crime novel I've encountered revealed the murderer to be a character that hadn't appeared in the story up until that point! I've stricken the author's name and book title from my mind, but I recall feeling cheated. Granted, in real life police investigations, the culprit might well be someone that the detectives hadn't considered, but in a novel things have to make sense.
It's laziness in the extreme.
 
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