Have you ever read a novel by an author who seems so entranced with the lyrical aspect of writing that he or she seems to sacrifice plot and/or character development to style or a clever conceit? When this happens, I’ve found that a story’s ending can be less than satisfying because all the strands aren’t woven together or the ending is rushed because the author wasn’t really sure how to wrap up the tale being told.
When this happens, when an ending isn’t truly satisfying, it really affects your experience as a reader, doesn’t it? You feel left hanging in the air, a bit emotionally unsettled, or even cheated. All these problems point to the importance of writing an ending that seems consistent with your story and emotionally earned.
I’ve just finished a wonderfully written and inventive award-winning novel that’s gotten lots of buzz. It’s historical fiction and it focuses on what you might call a footnote in history. While I loved watching the tale unspool and thoroughly enjoyed the writer’s lyrical style, I felt the ending let me down for several reasons:
First, in the last pages of the story, the main character, whom I’d gotten to know and admire, receded. An important secondary character swooped in and took over the tale, literally. The main character whom I’d spent most of the book with just disappeared.
Second, the story builds towards a tragic event that devastates the lives of all the key characters. And yet the character at the heart of this tragedy isn’t really developed, so the impact of this loss, while totally understandable from a plot perspective, isn’t really that emotionally searing for the reader.
Third, while the main character has tremendous intuitive powers, these desert her in the end in the face of the tragedy she endures. There’s just a huge hole in her heart. While this is true to life, I somehow felt that she was denied her truest self at the end of the story — that this wasn’t consistent with who she was. I kept feeling that there should have been some way for her to reach out beyond the tragedy, given her gifts, and that this was denied her. Instead, in the end, another character found some heart’s ease and resolution. Not satisfying to a reader!
Endings — they are so important! To my mind, a strong ending circles back to the beginning of a story, but also makes a reader feel they’ve taken a journey and arrived at a place that makes emotional sense.
What about you? Have you found some big stores fall short because of endings that don’t quite add up? I’d love to hear about them as we all write on!