Friday, October 19, 2012

The Ten Worst Ways to End a Book

We’ve all read books that end so perfectly we’re left in states of total bliss. The story was so good we ache for more, but things were wrapped up so satisfyingly that we honestly know it’s better this way.

Think of it like a fancy three course meal. The appetizer appetized. The entrée was rich, filling, and oh-so-delicious. And when dessert came, it was tasty, sweet and just the right size. You’re full, but not so full your stomach might rupture.

And then there are the books that serve you sewage for dessert.

The ending is the last impression the reader is left with. You don’t care if the first act dropped wonderfully tantalizing hints if the last act dumps a pile of crap on your plate. These are examples of the types of endings that leave a sour taste in the reader’s mouth (to torture a metaphor even further). Ones to LOOK OUT FOR if you’re a reader, and ones to avoid if you’re a writer on Pain of Death.

1.      The Everybody Dies Ending
I suppose some people find this one deeply literary or meaningful. I call it offensively manipulative and a total cop-out. It’s a cheap and often pretentious ploy that only worked when Shakespeare did it, and even then I thought it was a bit much.
He will grow up to write really depressing novels.

2.      The Deus Ex Machina Ending
The bane of my existence. For those of you who don’t know, deus ex machine is, to quote Wikipedia, “a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. It can be roughly translated as ‘God made it happen,’ with no further explanation, and, depending on usage, is primarily used to move the story forward when the writer has "painted himself into a corner" and sees no other way out”.

Basically, the resolution does not come from the characters. It is not inherent in the story, set up from the beginning, arising from the painful development the main character has undergone. No. A great force pops out of the sky, waves a magic wand, and POOF! Things are all better! I’m looking at you, Aslan (aka the Deux ex Lion)

3.      The Rainbows and Puppies Ending
This basically means that everybody lives happily ever after. To me, it’s preferable to the Everybody Dies ending, only because it doesn’t severely bum me out. But this chosen resolution is both immature an unrealistic. Life is messier than this. There are consequences even when you achieve your goals. I like when the author chooses not to tie up every thread with a pretty pink bow. 

KEEP READING! There is Ryan Gosling after the jump.

4.      The “Where the heck did that come from?!” Ending
 The totally out-of-left-field, not set up, doesn’t belong, holy-God-the-book-just-jumped-off-a-cliff ending. Sometimes these are AWESOME. Sometimes the twist ending is a brilliant development purely BECAUSE you didn’t see it coming.

I had a writing teacher who liked to compare reading a book to buying a train ticket. Let’s say you buy the ticket expecting a journey from Los Angeles to San Francisco. You don’t care what track the author takes, as long as you are still heading up to San Fran. But sometimes the author can have a flash of brilliance and shoot you over to Las Vegas and you go, “WOW, Las Vegas is totally better than San Francisco and I don’t miss San Fran at all!” Or you can arrive in Las Vegas and realize it is gaudy and the air is dry and you were really hoping for a stroll on Fisherman’s Wharf (this post is brought to you by Tortured Metaphors!)
Enough with the metaphors.

5.      The Convenient Ending
“Oh crap, I’m in a completely impossible situation that I can’t get out of. The bad guys are bearing down on me, trying to kill me, and I am utterly defenseless. Hey wait a second. What’s this loaded gun doing here on the ground?! My, how convenient! I’ll just shoot the bad guy dead and win the day!”
I warned you not to come near me animated gif
It's terribly convenient how God just sucked the bad guy right out of my path.
"It's also terribly convenient that I was born with the innate ability to cause all mean people to break out in hives." Basically, the convenient coincidence gosh-that-was-lucky ending is BAD.

6.      The Off-Tone Ending
The one that immediately comes to mind for me is Crime and Punishment (very long, very dour, full of murderous, religious Russians who worry about Jesus a LOT. Proceed with caution). It’s obviously quite a thoughtful and melancholy book (there are no happy Russian novels). So why is that epilogue all full of hope? The main character is literally SPOILER SPOILER in a Siberian prison. He’s spent the last million pages being all morose and kind of a drag. Yet now he’s all smiley and thinking about his twue wuv incessantly. It doesn’t fit.

7.      The Way Too Soon Ending
This one’s pretty self-evident. You’re getting totally into the book, things are coming to a point, the stakes are higher than ever, there is SO MUCH TENSION… and that’s where it ends. Things are unresolved. You have a case of literary blue balls.

8.      The Way Too Long Ending
Things gets resolved, but then the action keeps going. The conflict is over, but still there are words on the page. This is toxic. This is the author’s inability to exit the arena once the concert is over (METAPHORS!!). Authors get so in love with their characters and their worlds that it’s understandable not to want to leave them. You know all the things that happen after the final plot point, and you want to show the reader. Sometimes we as readers don’t want to leave either, and are willing to gobble up as many after-desserts as you’re willing to offer. But enough is enough.
Can we just move this along already?

9.      The “It was all a dream!” Ending
This is the equivalent of saying “PSYCH! Those last 300 pages you just spent hours of your life paying attention to? Completely unimportant. The author has not only pulled the rug out from under you, he’s pulled the whole house. You’re actually on a boat.

This is the type of ending that makes me all CAPSY and cross and I end up throwing the book across the room (unless it’s a Kindle, obviously, because that thing cost me $79).

10.  The Meaningless Ending/ The Non-Ending

This is a combo of the ending that just sort of peters out into nothing, and the ending that happens, but doesn’t actually mean anything. Either the characters haven’t developed towards this ending, or this ending doesn’t continue to affect them in anyway. It doesn’t hit home the themes. It’s the equivalent of being served flavorless pudding for dessert. Bleh.
This is what how bad endings make me feel. Withered, hairless, and lacking a decent command of grammar.

And with that, I end my extended Metaphor Abuse and turn it over to you. What type of endings do you hate? What types do you love? Are there any points I made that you disagree with (rare, but it happens)?


  1. Ryan Gosling is always the best way to ensure the ladies keep reading...

    This post was both hilarious and perfectly on point. Thanks for making me laugh! I hate ALL these types of endings. Can't think of any types you missed right now.

    1. Ryan Gosling is my secret weapon. And thanks! You really have no idea how much comments (and their accompanying compliments) mean to me. It's why I blather on like this in a public forum.

  2. Lol at Ryan Gosling!

    I love this post. But I am confused about the difference between a Convenient Ending and a Deus Ex Machina?

    1. How I see the difference is the Deus Ex Machina is an external force coming in and fixing the problem. Think of the Narnia books, or better yet, the Prince Caspian movie. Aslan shows up, roars, and a big water demon bursts out of the river and ends the battle. For me, the convenient ending would be if one of the bad guys conveniently had a heart attack or something. They do sort of go hand in hand.

    2. I think other examples of the Convenient Ending is, like, when you just happen to run into the one person in the world who can reveal the necessary secrets, or you just happen to have been living in the one house in the world that is the portal to such and such, purely by coincidence. Or like in Twilight, when it turns out that James, the bad vamp who wants to kill Bella (I was rooting for him)just HAPPENS to be the same vamp who tried to kill Alice. Now, Alice's history had been a puzzle for almost a hundred years, but Bella just HAPPENED to solve it just be existing. Good one, Bella. Pure coinkydink.

    3. That's a very good example of a convenient coincidence right at the end.

  3. Books are friends, not foodOctober 20, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    There are some books that truly DO make me feel like Gollum at the end. Lol.

    1. I've been known to wail in disappointment as well. :-D

  4. This made me laugh so hard! Speaking of Way Too Long Endings, I totally thought of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. There are fifteen endings to that.

  5. I agree with all of these. Especially the "It was all a dream!" ending. I hate it when author's don't put enough effort into the ending. That's the most important part to me as a reader because that's what I'm left with the second I close the book.

    1. So true! You can tell when the author didn't give the ending every ounce of effort they could. It's almost like they don't value you as a reader.

  6. I'm kind of in love with this post (by 'kind of', i mean 'entirely'). There are so many HORRIBLE ways to end a book, it's a wonder any author can get it right! The WORST is the convenient ending, where all is horrible theres no hope left--except WAIT SUDDENLY I DO REMEMBER HOW TO SHOOT AN ARROW MY PARENTS TAUGHT ME WHEN I WAS LITTLE BUT THE BLOW TO THE HEAD TOOK AWAY THAT MEMORY BUT NOW WITH THE ADRENALINE RUSH I REMEMBER DIE BAD GUY DIE!! It just makes me shake my head at the book/screen.

    Ryan Gosling GIF. Awesome even if he is covering his beautiful face in it.
    Also, literary blue balls. I LOL'ed in real life.

    1. You just made me snortcackle with that arrow thing. That is EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

      And Ryan Gosling makes everything better.

  7. I have a confession to make. I really like books/movies where everyone dies at the end. Now, this is probably because I'm morbid BUT I like to pretend it's because it leaves absolutely no loose ends. This is the end. Everyone is dead, absolutely nothing of interest could possibly happen in this story after this point. Not that I'm arguing for EVERYTHING ending with everyone dead. That would be awful. (Though I'd be interested in how the fanfic communities coped).

    The rest of these endings are terribad.

    1. The One Where Everyone Dies at the End is probably the least offensive ending on the list. At least it IS an ending. It's a stylistic choice, and it can be meaningful, depending on the skill of the author and the quality of the story (see: all of Shakespeare's tragedies). My issue with that ending is when it's done just to be done. Also because I'm the sort of person who cries in almost every single movie I watch, so the Everybody Dies endings tend to destroy me.

      *Snort* Terribad.


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