Why Do The Endings Stink?

I am about to write “The End” on my WIP, Road To Passion (in another ten thousand words or so, but who’s counting?)

And I think I know why I am so disappointed in the last quarter of almost every romance novel I read: They stink.

See, the last quarter is when everything is resolved–wrongs are righted, lovers are reunited, evil is punished, the just are rewarded, and the sick get better. Good, right? Sure, but also boring. It is so much more fun to read about danger and chaos and drama than things going right in the world.

I also think that by the end the poor author is so freaking sick of her characters she rushes to the end without worrying as much as she did in the first three quarters about proper word choice, interesting scenes, etc. I JUST WANT TO FINISH THIS THING might be all that is going through her mind now. Just saying.

Do you start getting bored when you know for sure everything is going to be okay? If you disagree with my stinky endings opinion, what book endings really worked for you?

Thanks for sharing your opinion!

THE END (of this post)


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Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
14 years ago

Hi Megan. Sure there are books where I felt the HEA was rushed, or I never believed the love story between the hero and the heroine but there are just as many books that I put down when they were over satisfied and happy that the couple were living happily ever after. The Secret Diaries of Miranda Cheever is one example. Actually I’ve felt that way with most of Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Jennifer Crusie’s books.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

I’m probably going to have rotting fruit thrown at me, but the endings of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander frustrated me. I had to do some thinking about this because these two books were EXTREMELY popular and successful and I loved the characters (except Claire-she was never my cup of tea, but that’s just me. I could see why others would love her).

I finally decided that they used a different structure than I was used to reading. They were Episodic, rather than focusing on a clear story ARC, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. If I went through the books again, I’d probably find some story arc, but while reading, it didn’t pop out at me.

I kept wanting everything to be tied together at the end and then I realized that it wasn’t meant for that.

Endings are HARD. No doubt about it and they are not as malleable as beginnings and middles, because they have to be based on those beginnings and middles.

One idea about endings that was actually given to me by Kathryn Caskie, is to make the ending reflect the beginning. Put the characters in a similar situation as they were in in the beginning of the book, but have it come out differently. My favorite endings of my own books were the ones where I did this!

sandy l
14 years ago

Oooh! I like Kathryn Caskie’s idea about the ending reflecting the beginning. Actually, I’ve read that before.

Romances haven’t worked for me in a long time. I’ve returned to historial mysteries and fantasy. It’s not so much the endings as the execution, I think. There’s something basic missing in most of the current romances I’ve picked up. I’m not sure if I can define it, but perhaps it also affects the ending. When the writer gets tired of writing in circles, the ending will be rushed.

I never could get into Outlander, Julia Quinn, or Eloisa James. And I’ve met Eloisa James at an author signing. She’s really nice and I feel kind of guilty.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Usually I enjoy endings but then I am selective about the authors I read and they rarely disappoint me.

When I don’t like the HEA it is sometimes because it gets rather generic and overly perfect (like the less well written sex scenes that could be reinserted in any other romance). If I am engaged with the characters and the HEA is the right one for them as individuals I happily keep reading.

I also like little touches of realism. I had one of Lady Dearing’s kids picking his nose at her wedding. Maybe not the ultimate romantic effect wreathed in doves and flowers but it made me smile.

Congrats on getting close to THE END, Megan!

14 years ago

Color me cynical, but I think the endings stink in a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, because books are bought almost entirely based on the first 3 chapters and a twenty-five word pitch.

It’s gotten to where I sometimes wonder if anyone in publishing even reads the whole manuscript any more.

Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

I have two separate peeves about endings, one romance-specific and one for recent fiction in general.

1. With at least half the romances I read these days, I get frustrated with the story around the 2/3 to 3/4 mark and skim till the end. Usually it’s because the romance itself feels resolved–the couple is in love, they’re married and/or having great sex, and it seems like the trust and commitment are there for a HEA. Then, one of two things happens. Sometimes the author throws in some external threat, a kidnapping or something, that feels tacked on, like it’s only there to pad the page count or to meet some publisher demand for drama and villainy. Other times there’s some kind of estrangement or Big Misunderstanding that has to be resolved–those bug me more, because I feel like once the couple has reached the point of love, commitment, and hot sex, they need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, why should I believe in their HEA? It’s not like the next 50-60 years of their lives will be trouble-free, and I need to believe they have the love and resilience to stick together in the bad times.

2. I read so many novels in all genres that to my mind have insufficient denouement. They resolve the primary conflict and just STOP, and that’s not enough for me. I want at least a few pages to celebrate together with the characters that they’re triumphed over the adversity that drove the story. One author who gets it right, IMHO, is Jacqueline Carey in her Kushiel series. I wish I could borrow her Queen Ysandre and send her around the other novels I read to throw grand fetes for the protagonists!

Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

I kept wanting everything to be tied together at the end and then I realized that it wasn’t meant for that.

Diane, this fascinated me, because I love episodic stories like Gabaldon’s and O’Brian’s. Few things make me happier as a reader than a nice ongoing series, so my response to that unfinished feeling is, “Whee! Hooray! There’s more!” Of course, if the writer writes slowly or drops a series half-finished to work on other projects, THEN it gets frustrating, but still.

My new WIP is the first time I’ve attempted a connected series (as opposed to a romance-style series with loosely connected books where secondary characters from one volume are protagonists of the next), and it’s a challenge. The character arcs are flatter, because I’m planning at least four volumes and therefore have to give the characters some room to mature and change more in the sequels. And the ending needs to be satisfying enough not to infuriate readers, while leaving enough open questions that they’ll be eager for the next volume.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

I definitely find endings the most difficult part to write! Usually I’m writing along, trying to make the relationship one that deserves a “happy ending” (and an enduring one!), then I realize “Oh no! (or expletive I can’t write here…) I only have twenty pages left to wrap this up or I will be WAY over word count!” It’s definitely an on-going challenge…

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Susan said:
And the ending needs to be satisfying enough not to infuriate readers, while leaving enough open questions that they’ll be eager for the next volume.

Susan, I love connected books – My Harlequin/Mills & Boon books are connected, but definitely are not continuing the story of one hero and heroine.

But I think there is a difference in an episodic series and one that has a story arc for each book. For example, I loved the Sharpe series. Couldn’t wait to read what would happen next to Sharpe. But each of those books stood alone. Same with Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. And JD Robb, the Cat Who…books, lots of mysteries – Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, James Bond…

I fully appreciate the talent of Gabaldon and O’Brian, but I’m much happier reading series where each book has a distinct beginning, middle and end. Knowing I’ll meet that character again in another book is gravy on the potatoes!

Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

But I think there is a difference in an episodic series and one that has a story arc for each book.

I see what you mean, but personally I love both types! And my alternate history WIP is what I think of as a standard fantasy series where the individual volumes don’t quite stand alone. There’s an overarching problem that isn’t wholly solved until the end of the series. In the earlier volumes, my protagonists get to win battles, but not the war.

(And, yes, I know this is a risky approach for me as an unpublished writer, that’d I’d be better off with a standalone. Stupid Muse wouldn’t leave me alone on this one, though.)

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Susan, it occurs to me that your books are a lot like Colleen Gleason’s Gardella Vampire series, the “Buffy meets Jane Austen” books – The Rest Falls Away and Rises the Night. Colleen solves the main story problem, but always leaves something big hanging unanswered for the next book. (and I love those books)

If she can do it, you can do it, too!! Best of luck with it.

Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

If she can do it, you can do it, too!! Best of luck with it.

Thanks! I’ve been comparing my WIP to Naomi Novik’s series when I explain it to people, but the Gleason books have a similar kind of continuity, too.

Janet Mullany
14 years ago

Interesting, Megan, because in romance we all know what the ending will be as soon as we’ve determined who the h/h are!
But I know what you mean, and I think part of the trouble is too much formulaic structure–you must have GMC, you must have the Big Black Moment (this is why you get the tiresome oh for god’s sake get on with it plot twists a chapter or so from the end that Susan mentions), and so on.
I have immense trouble writing endings. I don’t want to wrap up everything nicely with a bow, and I want to give the sense of the h/h going on to a new step in their relationship. So I tend to write throwaway endings and fiddle around with them.
I like to think of the h/h jumping off a cliff together, but in a good sort of way, not a Thelma and Louise sort of way.

14 years ago

Diane, I loved Outlander but lost patience with subsequent Gabaldon books. Outlander felt finished to me.

With the others, I felt like I’d fallen into a spiraling story, and had to get out.

Janet wrote: **I like to think of the h/h jumping off a cliff together, but in a good sort of way, not a Thelma and Louise sort of way.**

Well, you’re no fun. 🙂

Romance endings are especially difficult because of the HEA. I’m finding that genre expectations make writing romance tons harder, not easier.

When I think of books where I liked the endings, stories like The Shipping News or Practical Magic come to mind.

Oh, Jane Austen got it so right in P&P. I love to picture Mrs. Gardner going around Pemberley in her pony cart!

Tracy Grant
14 years ago

Endings are hard. I actually enjoy writing the last third or so of the book–hopefully the plot is coming together at that point and everything is quite propulsive. But I have a hard time with the last chapter–tying things up enough, without being too pat, leaving things open for the next book in the series (I too love series, and I love the sense at the end of a book that the characters’ lives will continue beyond the last page). I often wait and write it on a subsequent draft. I left the last chapter in “Beneath a Silent Moon” for a long time, then wrote it late one night, thinking ‘okay, I’ll just get something down.” In the end, I did change it much, and it’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever written.

Megan Frampton
14 years ago

What a lively convo you guys have gotten into! I love Kathryn Caskie’s idea–fits very much in line with how I see books–so thanks for sharing that, Diane.

I loved Outlander, but have not read any of the subsequent books. It did feel finished to me.

I totally admire the people who can keep a story arc going for books at a time–I just started the third Lilith Saintcrow/Dante Valentine book, and she is amazing at that.

And I am going to try to keep my patience up until “The End.”

Cara King
14 years ago

I must say, I rarely find the endings in books I read to be boring! Instead, what I had trouble with for a while was the halfway-to-three-quarters part of the book. Sometimes there just isn’t enough plot there, and not enough happens in that part…

Though I suppose, on reflection, that though endings rarely bore me, sometimes the plot doesn’t work out overly believably in the end.

That is, if the author has figured out a dandy conflict that will keep the characters apart, it can be a little too dandy, meaning one or other character requires a bizarre reversal near the end, when they realize that they don’t really want what they’ve convinced us throughout the book they desperately have to have…

As for endings I’ve written…I think they’re varied. Some I rushed a bit — not because I was bored with the characters, but perhaps because I was afraid to get too emotional or something? But oddly enough, I’ve never been afraid of my Regency endings… They’re just so much fun, whether comic or more angsty, for me to write…


14 years ago

So that’s what bugged me about Diana Gabaldon’s books! The endings! I just could not make myself read another one after the second one. I have read some romance novels where the end seemed rushed or contrived. But I can usually tell when that sort of ending is coming. I really like the idea of the story coming full circle with the hero and heroine in a place similar to where they started. Neat idea! I also love an epilogue. I want to see how things are going down the road.

Pam Rosenthal
14 years ago

My favorite ending of all time — and it’s an epilog — is of War and Peace. Ten plus years after Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, Natasha and Pierre are happily married and erstwhile adorable gamine Natasha spoils her kids and has a bit of a belly; tough little Nikolai and sweet Marya are married and Marya indulges Nikolai in some of his worse stuffy Alpha Male habits. And dead Prince Andre’s son is now entering adolescence (Andre was Natasha’s fiance Marya’s brother) — and is onto all of the adults in all their weaknesses and imperfections.

(And if you were reading it at the time in Russia, you’d know that the young Russian officers, inspired by Napoleon even if he’d been defeated, were working on the doomed, noble Decembrist plot to overthrow the Tsar).

14 years ago

I think I agree with Susan Wilbanks and Cara–when I have a problem with a romance, it’s more often the feeling that an extra conflict or twist had to be inserted to make the word count. That’s frustrating, because it often requires the hero or heroine (or both) to either go against their character, or against common sense (or both).

I think it must be tough to gauge the conflicts in a romance–enough to make the plot and the arc of the romance believable, not so much that I don’t believe these characters will really be happy together. Even really good writers can miss, I think.

Of course, what constitutes a “miss” is something of a matter of taste. I found Jennifer Crusie’s Fast Women unsatisfying for two reasons: first, it actually seemed very negative about the possibility of happily ever after, and second, I thought the hero and heroine’s relationship had serious problems. But I know (from reading comments on this blog) that many people love this book. (I love most of her books, so this one was a rare disappointment for me.)