Photo by Jason Rogers (click pic for link)
Yesterday we talked about the type of endings you could choose for your story. Today, I want to look at what things to avoid so you don't have readers chucking your book against the wall or using it for kindling when they finish it.
Let's take a look at some common ending mistakes according to Edward Patterson.
How to recognize it: This is the ending that when you reach it, you really don't care anymore. You're not surprised, excited, or invested.What went wrong: This happens when the story peaked too soon in the book. The big, exciting, conflict-resolving moment was chapters ago. The only reason there is a story to begin with is the conflict, once it's resolved, you're done. It's okay to have a "afterglow"/denouement chapter, but don't drag it out.How to fix it: Move the conflict resolution closer to the end. Or if you've resolved, say, the external conflict (yay, they've saved the world!) make sure you haven't settled the internal conflict yet. (They saved the world, but the MC still hasn't expressed her true feelings for hero, etc.) Give your reader a reason to keep reading.
2. Runaway Train
How to recognize it: This is where things are building up, but then toward the end, the pacing goes out of control and the wrap up feels rushed. "Wait, it's over?"What went wrong: Sometimes this is because you, as a writer, are ready to "get 'er done" after writing the whole book, so you rush through it. Other times, this is because you didn't begin with your end in mind. You should be building toward your ending the entire time so that it's not abrupt and slapped on at the end.How to fix it: Know what your ending is going to be so that you can work toward it throughout the book. As I mentioned in one of my beginnings post, even your first few pages should hint at the end. By the middle of the book, you should be starting to end it.
3. Contrived Endings
How to recognize it: This ending makes you say, "Seriously? Yeah, right." Everything falls into place in crazy coincidences, characters make decisions that don't make sense, etc.What went wrong: This can happen if you are too tied to the ending you originally envisioned. Yes, you should know where you're going when you write, but usually your characters take over at some point and guide your story, requiring changes. An ending may feel contrived because it no longer matches what your characters and stories have developed into.How to fix it: Know how you want to end your story, but change things organically as your characters and story grow and develop. Make sure the actions of your characters at the end are properly motivated throughout the book. And do not rely on coincidences to fix the conflicts in your story.
4. Dribble Out Endings
How to recognize it: This is the ending that isn't an ending at all. The story just sort of fades away and you're left wondering..."wait, what?" These are sometimes meant for the reader to be left pondering (similar to the 'things that make you say hmm" ending of yesterday) but it has no impact and falls flat. I loathe books and movies that do this.What went wrong: The author avoided writing an ending or failed in an attempt to be profound.How to fix it: Do not take your reader on a ride with you only to abandon them at the end. Give them something to take away--a conclusion, a lesson, something.
5. An Epilogue is Not an Ending
Some people love epilogues and some hate them. However, if you do decide to include one, realize that it is not the ending. It is the afterglow. Your ending needs to be impactful and climactic and satisfying. The epilogue is meant to be the cuddle time after the big moment so that you can mellow after that ending high.
Have you found yourself falling into any of these traps? Or, have you read any books that have committed one of these sins? When you start writing your stories, do you have the end in mind?
**Today's Theme Song**
"It's the End of the World As We Know It" - R.E.M
(player in sidebar if you'd like a listen)