Landing the Ending

Here’s a post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Endings

The one thing that will sell your next book is the ending of the current book. If your book ends well, leaving the reader satisfied, then they’ll want to repeat the experience with your next book. If your ending falls flat, then some readers won’t care about your next book. If your ending is truly awful, the readers will avoid your next book completely. What made me think of this was a movie that Dean and I watched on Amazon Prime. The movie is called Parallel. We knew nothing about it before we watched it, except for the bit of advertising copy. The movie’s about multiverses, which we both love, and it looked promising. When we watch something together, we have a rule: either one can veto the movie at any point in the movie. We figured this one would be an early veto. Instead, it was a good way to spend an hour-plus. The script was tight, the characters—though unlikeable—were well drawn. There were some quibbles (no way could those bodies have been disposed of easily), but they were minor.

The movie hummed along. It even had the perfect ending. I was enjoying it…and then some idiot tacked on a scene with a minute and a half left. That scene ruined the movie. I have since looked at reviews, and everyone calls the ending a jumbled mess. Yeah. It is. But had the movie ended a minute and a half earlier, it would have been just fine.

Here’s what the ending did wrong:

  1. It introduced new information that contradicted the information in the movie.
  2. It threw in a plot twist that literally made no sense.
  3. It was pointless and emotionally flat.
  4. It did not match the tone of the rest of the movie.
  5. It raised questions that could not be answered.

This strongly reminded me of the Extracted trilogy by RR Hayward. This link goes to my comments about the series, which included Extracted, Executed, and Extinct.

My basic conclusion about this series:

Still, I read Extracted and liked it well enough to go on with the second book, which was GREAT and then the third, which was a tiny bit closer to meh than GREAT. A fourth book would improve the series ending because poof, it wouldn’t be the ending anymore. In the meantime, I actually highly recommend the first two as a duology …

So you see why I thought of this trilogy in connection the the above post! This is an example where the author does not land the ending (of the third book; the first two are fine and in fact lots of fun, particularly the second book). Where does the author fail? Considering the above list, I would say that the ending of Executed works just fine as an ending, while the ending of Extinct fails at points #1, #2, and #5.

Kristine finishes up her post this way:

How do you bring the reader to the next book? You do it by making them love your ending. It had the perfect ending, reader you will tell your friends.

The perfect ending fits the genre and subgenre, but it also surprises. Or, if it doesn’t surprise (no one is surprised by the happily ever after in a romance) on a plot level, it surprises on an emotion level. (I didn’t expect the romance to make me cry with happiness. Or I didn’t expect all that tension in the middle. Or I had no idea how they would resolve all those problems they had as a couple in a satisfying manner, and yet they did!)

A reader can forgive a mediocre or even trite ending, as long as it fits with the book. But a reader will not forgive a bad ending—one that changes the nature of the characters or that contradicts everything that came before or kills off everyone we loved with no warning whatsoever.

Well said, and quite true! Do NOT contradict everything that came before (And then she woke up) and by all that’s holy, do not kill any of the characters when we’ve been cheering their survival. Remember the start of Aliens III, when the movie opens and we find out that oops! Newt and Bishop both died after all! Remember that? Yeah, me neither, I’ve totally blocked everything about that movie from my mind. I would never touch anything else in that universe. They would have to pay me to go to another Aliens movie after that! And this is very much because the beginning of that movie utterly destroys the excellent ending of the previous movie.

You’ve all seen Aliens, right? Because whoa, what a fantastic movie that is. The first movie in the series is a great horror/SF film, but I don’t care for horror, so not really my thing. The second, an SF thriller, is the one you have to see. And, as mentioned here, that’s the place to stop. You’ll love the ending as long as you don’t go on to the third movie.

Okay, this is all making me think I ought to try to list off some books and/or movies with particularly great endings. Perhaps I’ll take a stab at that in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, if you’ve read something recently where the author landed the perfect ending, by all means drop it in the comments!

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11 thoughts on “Landing the Ending”

  1. The ending of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy series was the most surprisingly satifying ending I have read in a long time.

  2. Tots agree. There was a dark fantasy series I recall that I read several books in. I’m not a fan of grimdark, but I kept going because the main character was trying to be a good person and there were hints of found family. But then about book four or five, everything went to hell, the found family fell apart (the “wife” was just using them the whole time and had no actual emotional connection, and just walked away; the “son” turned into a mass murder and psychopath), the character just threw his hands up and became the oppressing government, and I couldn’t believe that I’d been roped along for the whole series only to be told that all the hints of light were for naught. I really felt like the author/reader compact had been violated, and I will never read that author again. (I can’t actually remember their name or the series name, so thoroughly have I blocked it from my mind, just like Aliens III, which I had also forgotten about!)

  3. I’m doing a re-read of Patricia McKillip’s books (and mourning that there will be no more). It strikes me that a lot of her satisfying books end on a hopeful note. All the problems might not be solved, but the protagonist can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

    The worst ending that I’ve read would have to be The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But I’m not sure if that really counts as an ending. I understand the publisher said “Right, we’re coming by to take the manuscript so wrap it up Now.”

  4. Evelyn, I hadn’t heard the bad news about McKillip. I suppose it’s not inappropriate that I find out via a post about endings.

    I’d say many of her books end imperfectly — I’m thinking of both Cygnet books, in particular — but I agree with Rachel that The Book of Atrix Wolfe has one of the best ending lines ever.

  5. I actually like the Cygnet endings. The second one leave us expecting Nix to find the way to the dragons again. We don’t need the story.

    GGK likes endings that are somewhat ambiguous and life goes on. I appreciate that.

    I will always point to Bridge of Birds as an example of the best possible ending.

    I was very sorry to hear about McKillip, although I’d been wondering about her health since her last book came out quite a few years ago. I was hoping it was publishers being incompetent, not her being ill.

  6. Elaine, AARGH, WE DO SO NEED THE STORY.

    I’ve seldom been more frustrated with the lack of a sequel as I was, and still am, with that story.

  7. So I don’t remember what book this actually was, just something that I found in the YA section of the library once, so I’m likely misremembering at least one important thing about it, but it fits this topic perfectly:

    The book seemed to be a pretty standard hero’s journey story in a not particularly special fantasy setting, the writing wasn’t great but it also wasn’t terrible, so I keep going, reading about this guy leading some sort of fight against some sort of evil or whatever, and near the end of the book they’re sort of winning, at least for now, and I’m thinking, “ok they haven’t completely defeated the evil yet so there will probably be a sequel”, and then in the last couple pages, WHAM out of nowhere the main character gets shot with an arrow in a totally surprise ambush and dies, and it turns out the legendary hero who the series about is ACTUALLY this guy’s son, who was only just conceived, and any follow up books would not be about any of the people I just spent this entire book getting to know!!

    I have no idea if any sequels to this book were ever published (it seemed to be from a pretty small publisher and I don’t remember any information that would let me look it up), but I had no interest in reading more because I have never been so ENRAGED with a book before!

  8. ‘Kay, ‘kay, but there was this one duology- I believe the second one was called Shadow Claw, and the first, Seraphina – and the first book was awesome. It was amazing. There were weird musical instruments and dragons and a fascinating protagonist (half-dragon herself, and had this weird dream-garden in which other people apparently spent time? And a really interesting religion), and there was this really impossible moral quandary set up in the first book, and it was set to be incredibly amazing –
    And then. AND THEN. The author face-planted. Hard. Because for three-fourths of the second book, I was humming along like, ‘Oh, yes, things are being revealed, there’s some awesome backstory that sheds new light on the situation, *dragons*, maaaan I wonder how she’s going to solve this moral quandary . . .”
    The moral quandary in question was an arranged marriage, and the protagonist was in love with one of the parties. And suddenly, all the problems that stood between them were hand-waved away with, ‘Oh, as it turns out she’s, like, a saint now, and the rules (and her own conscience) don’t apply now. Also, the second party in this arranged marriage is gay for her, so they’re going to go off into the sunset as a happy threesome! Isn’t that great?’
    No. It was not great. Mainly because it violated every moral rule the author had set up until literally the LAST FIVE PAGES. I have never actually thrown a book, but that one, I almost chucked at the wall. I was enraged and offended, mainly by the way she created this specific character’s morality and then rewrote her internal rules at the last possible second so that she could have everything she ever wanted at the end. The protagonist had made it clear that she was willing to suffer for her convictions; that ending cheapened every difficult choice she’d made since the beginning by invalidating the foundation of those choices.
    I think what happened is that the author wrote herself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to get out, that’s what I think.

    By the way, for perfect endings, I would say that Timothy Zahn’s Dragon & Thief series has a pretty awesome wrap-up – also his stand-alone Icarus Hunt. Or Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle.

  9. Agree about Howl’s Moving Castle (but then I love everything about that book) and Ancillary Mercy (I know people complained about it not being epic enough, but that was the POINT!)(Books have made me cry with happiness before, but that may be the first time I’ve laughed with happiness.)(And I will definitely read anything she writes!)

    E.C., I agree that Shadow Scale did not live up to Seraphina and just left me scratching my head at the end and not really caring anymore. However, I thought she entirely redeemed herself with Tess of the Road, which isn’t a sequel so much as an adjacent story. No dragons or saints, but she explores the quixle?— whatever those dragon-cousin people were called and they are super interesting! Quigutl! (great name!) And Tess is an amazing character, and the plot is tight. She lands this ending: very satisfying, but leaves room for a sequel, which is out now but I haven’t read yet.

  10. Elise, aargh, sometimes I wonder what the author was thinking. Honestly, it seems to me that even if the sequel were about the son, this could have been handled a lot better than just shooting the father either at the end of the first book or (just as bad) the beginning of the second.

    EC, great point about Irene in The Queen of Attolia and yes, that’s a very important theme that continues through The King of Attolia. I think this is one big reason that pair of books is by far my favorite in the series.

    I had heard that the second book disappointed people after Seraphina and therefore never got a round to reading Shadow Scale. I suppose with Kim’s vehement thumbs up for Tess, that’s probably one I should at least keep on my radar.

  11. In the good old days when we were watching Doctor Who and only knew what episode number we were on, it was a great guessing game what the cliffhanger would be or if they would conclude in this episode.

    There were several stories where I was certain the cliffhanger was coming and they wrapped it up.

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