Monday, March 19, 2007

Lazy Endings

Ending a book well is hard, but it's perhaps the most important part of the writer's job. The reader has stayed with you through the thick and the thin, and at the end is where you deliver your pay off to them. Two books I finished this weekend didn't deliver, at least in my estimation. Both were pretty big sellers, and I've very much enjoyed previous works by both writers. This time I was disappointed. And here's why.

Book 1: The hero is cornered by the villain in a dark storm drain at the end. She/he has a gun and the drop. The villain has been well developed and is clearly vicious and ready to kill. The hero is a bit more bumbling but has shown amazing resourcefullness throughout. So how does the author resolve the apparent standoff? A wild animal attacks the villain from behind and kills her/him. Even though we have previously been introduced to the tracks of this wild animal, I felt badly let down by the ending and had to read it over a couple of times to make sure that, in fact, what I thought happened had really happened. Say what?

Book 2: The hero and his friends are pursued by a witch who is well developed as a powerful and savage antagonist. She has killed and "eaten" a child. She has transformed into an eagle, and a dragon. She has possessed souls left and right who now do her bidding. She faces the hero. He steps toward her, and with a single blow of his sword cuts off her head, freeing all the souls she's captured and finishing the final battle before it has properly begun. Yes, the hero is supposed to have supernatural powers, but that's why the villain is developed as having her own magic. The hero must face a worthy adversary. Er, or not. Say what?

How could these normally fine writers forget two simple rules of good endings.

1. The hero must resolve the conflict themselves and cannot be "rescued" by fate.

2. Defeating the villain must be "difficult."

Sigh.

12 comments:

Lucas Pederson said...

I agree with you. A book or story must end well in order to not cheat the readers. I'm always in favor of a brutal fight to the end...only in one of my manuscripts the hero dies. Still, I like to read action, I like to see the blood fly and hear the crack sound of a fist pummeling a face. Endings need to be endings, not just "oh well, the villan got attacked by a wild animal, so what?". I need closure sometimes while reading a book. I need to know that its ending is just as good as the rest of the book, if not better.

Steve Malley said...

No reader wants to hear the creaking wheels and see the frayed bits of rope as the gods are lowered from the machine onto the stage.

Deus ex Freaking Machina.

First chapter, first page, first sentence sell the reader on the book in his hand. The end needs to sell that reader on the next book.

That first book you mentioned, the previous one in the series started, and finished, brilliantly. I was half out of my mind waiting for the second.

Then, meh. But that first one was *so* good that I was still pretty excited about the third one.

Meh. The goodwill is thinning fast on that one, but eternal optimist that I am, I know I'll buy the fourth anyway...

Charles Gramlich said...

Agreed, Lucas. I want to know that the writer was in there swinging for the fence even if he/she didn't necessarily hit it.

Steve, I'm certainly gonna have a hard time shelling out hard earned money for the third in the series, but if I find it at a booksale I might give it a go. I agree that the first one was truly fine.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I've often found that once a writer has made it big, they sometimes soften up (perhaps because of mounting pressures to publish) and hurry their work.

Sidney said...

I've been disappointed by endings a few times. I remember one novel that built up to a conflict that was resolved in a blink. That is a bummer when you've been with a situation for 300 pages.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

i'm angry when there is a big build up; i loved straub's ghost story, but thought that the bad guy was killed fairly easily. didn't ruin the book, but in today's lingo, it was more like WTF?

Susan Miller said...

HUGE!!! This is so very important to me, and I will hold a grudge against a writer that took me somewhere and then left me with nothing. It almost seems as if some people have a knack for good endings. If it's a good read then you don't want it to stop, but a great writer will make a secret deal with you...you'll promise to read his/her next book, maybe even buy one for a friend and he/she will provide the gift of an ending that ensures you'll close that book, turn it over and look at the cover, sigh and go "now that was a damn good book." I love those!

Michelle's Spell said...

Endings are a huge deal. I'm always mad when I get to the end of a reasonably good book and it has a weak finish. I want to be sad and elated at the finish of a really good book!

Lana said...

Stephen King HAS to be the guiltiest party where this is concerned! I was riveted & horrified all the way through the 1000 pages of "It," only to be completely disappointed (if not right pissed off,) by the asinine ending. The only book I've read of his that ended decently was "Misery." Because of his complete ineptitude in endings I stopped reading his works over a decade ago. Like, don't waste my time, dude!

Erik Donald France said...

This brings to mind the end of Fargo, which has a good one. As does The Departed.
These, of course, are movies, but cover the same ground in a satisfying way.

Danny Tagalog said...

Yes, I think it's a matter of deadlines and second house repaymemnts that are to blame...

etain_lavena said...

AAAhhhh how laim is that, I would have been so pissed, I get also upset with open endings...I read the thing all the way trough I don't want an open ending my word....
:)