So You Want to Commit Novel #6: A Slap Dash Ending

You’ve finally worked your way through the muddle in the middle and find yourself staring at the ending.  Whatever else is in the book, people remember the ending.  If it’s worth remembering.

So why do some books fizzle at the ending?  Because the author ran out of words, or maybe because they didn’t understand their protagonist, or the nature of their story.

If you are writing a thriller or action packed adventure, would Bruce Willis call the police then sit back and wait for them to do his job?  Not likely.  He’ll be in the thick of the final fight for survival, sacrificing himself for the sake of the rest of the cast, or the universe.  Captain Jack Sparrow jumped into the maw of the monster to certain death, a captain and a hero to the end.  In the same movie Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan vow to go to the ends of the Earth and beyond to save him.  Jessica Fletcher in “Murder She Wrote” calls the police but insists upon being a part of the plot to trick the villain into confessing.

Jane Austen heroines tend to sit at home and wait for the hero to come to then.  Except for Emma.

In “Thistle Down” my heroine, Dusty, had to grow past her almost terminal shyness and organize a bucket brigade to save her beloved museum.  If she’d run away or hid from the responsibility she would not have lived up to her potential and finished her own story.  And readers would have been disgusted with her.

Another way to lose readers of the sequel is to cut a huge book with one story line in the middle of something important or worse, the middle of nothing.  I read one about 30 years ago that completely puzzled me.  It literally ended in mid sentence.  I guess it was supposed to be a hook but it left me totally unsatisfied and disgusted with the author who had so little control over the story she couldn’t find a proper ending.  She couldn’t even leave the characters hanging from a cliff edge by their fingernails.  They just wandered off somewhere, I had no idea where, what they needed to accomplish, or the purpose of the book.

The ending of a sweet romance is going to be very different from a thriller.  A cozy mystery, even if the hero and heroine are thrown into danger, will have a less tense and graphically violent ending from a police procedural mystery, or a hard-boiled Sam Spade type mystery.  An urban fantasy will usually have a very violent ending, often with serious injury to the protagonist.  An epic fantasy is more likely to have a grand ending with a huge battle pitting the forces of good against the forces of evil.  A literary tome about everyman living a metaphor for modern urban life could very likely have an ambiguous ending that asks more questions than provides answers.

Whatever style and tone for the book you the author chooses, the ending needs to carry through to a true ending that is worthy of the characters.

Now that you’ve finished the rough draft (mine are short, out of order, and ugly) you get to let it sit for a bit and begin revisions—next week’s topic.

Phyllis Irene Radford blogs here regularly on Thursdays, the same day her cozy mystery “Lacing Up For Murder” by Irene Radford is serialized on the front page rotation.

For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC

Or her personal web page


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


So You Want to Commit Novel #6: A Slap Dash Ending — 9 Comments

  1. I’ve written several 3 hankie endings, those seem to be the most memorable, or at least generate the most fan mail.

    Bu that’s putting emotion into fiction, a topic for another day.

  2. I am reviewing TOY STORY 3 right here in this blog in about 10 days, and it’s the ending that makes the movie.

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  4. An ending doesn’t have to be bad to generate sequels. It just needs a plot thread unresolved. The primary plot can still be finished and satisfactory, or poignant, or cliffhanger. The emotion at the end is the author’s choice, but it needs to leave the reader wanting more.

    A bad ending is more likely to kill any sequels because no one cares enough to buy them.

    I wish someone would knock a few authors and their editors upside the head with a 2X4 about this.

  5. Actually, that’s not what I said Phil — and I don’t disagree with you. I was trying to make the point that in today’s SF/F sequels are obligatory for big publishing houses. And since most writers have to shoehorn their story into the format, weak endings become endemic.

  6. I stand corrected. I still think some editors need to be whopped upside the head with a 2X4 for allowing this to get past them.

    There are ways to strengthen a weak ending and still leave room for a sequel. Writers and editors who let it slide are doing everyone a disservice.

  7. They have been whopped by a 2×4, Phil. It’s called “steeply declining sales” — but it still hasn’t jogged their mindsets in the direction of favoring less formulaic writing.