Originally published July 2010
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.