Advice, Fiction, Novel, Opinion, Reader, Short story, Writing

It has to end somehow

If you’re a writer, I’m asking you to forget all the writing rules you know, and think like a reader for a few minutes. How do you like stories and novels to end? I realize your answer will probably depend on the genre of the read, so feel free to give me multiple responses.

I know if the book is one of a series the ending will wrap up parts of the story, but leave something open-ended. I expect there are other factors, besides genre, that influence types of endings.

When I write, it’s almost impossible for me to end on a truly negative note. As a reader, I don’t need a happily-ever-after ending, but a miserable-ever-after ending is likely to leave me wishing I hadn’t bothered to read the book or story. Also, in my writing, I have a tendency to want to wrap things up—most things. And I suppose I have those same preferences I when I read. I’ll be frustrated if I’m left asking, “but what about …” too many times.

That’s not to say I don’t like to wonder what might have happened a day, or months, or years after The End. Sometimes, as with the ending of my novel The Brevity of Roses, one might assume things will go smoothly, but one could be wrong. I don’t mind entertaining the possibilities of future story after the last page, but I expect the author to have finished the story they’ve just told me.

I’m told literary journals love ambiguous endings. What exactly does that mean? I don’t mind a twist or a bit of surprise at the end to make me think back through the story for clues I missed, but you leave me cold if you leave me screaming, “What the heck?!”

I’m reasonably intuitive. I like nuance. I don’t need everything spelled out for me, in fact that annoys me. But an author needs to respect my trust.  I’ve read stories that kept me guessing, a bit confused even, but I read along expecting it would all fall into place by the end. When it didn’t, that author made me one angry reader.

Of course, I’m asking about endings because I’m struggling with writing one. That’s why I’m asking you AS A READER, how do you like your endings served?

21 thoughts on “It has to end somehow”

  1. It’s funny how endings can be perceived regardless of the author’s intent. I will finish a book thinking things are nicely tied up and when my sister reads it she says, ‘I like how they left the possibility of another book…then I have to put my thinking cap on and sure enough….


  2. I am with Carl that the story shouldn’t wrap up too abruptly. There’s a natural “Pause here” in every sequence, that allows the story to continue in the sequel but feels like a Stop also. Leaving a loose end opens the next area of explore.

    What irritates me is the author killing off a character and thus solving all problems!


    1. I think that would irritate me too, Mary Jean, but I can’t remember reading a book like that. I do remember a type of abrupt ending where, to me, the story just stopped without any resolution, leaving me saying, “What? That’s it?!”


      1. Jody Piccoult, My Sister’s Keeper, dealt with a very real contemporary problem. Killed the character. But I admire how she starts with contemporary “moral” problems with which we are wrestling.


        1. I haven’t read that book, Mary, or seen the movie, but a lot of readers didn’t like that ending, and they changed it in the movie version. I’ve never read any of Picoult’s novels, but it seems from the descriptions she usually writes on some contemporary social or moral issue. I should probably read one of her books.


  3. Like you, I appreciate some ambiguity. As a writer (sorry, it’s too tightly woven to only be half of me), I was taught that a good story closes a door and opens a window. As a reader, I like the story of the main characters’ lives at that moment in time resolved.

    If the ending is not a “good” outcome, I like a note of hope for some/most characters. I don’t like everyone living happily ever after, which I suppose explains why I prefer literary fiction (or commercial literary).


  4. I agree with Cathryn. A story doesn’t have to be neatly tied up in the end. I don’t mind open or ambiguous endings. As a reader, I prefer positive outcomes, not kitschy “they-lived-happily-ever-after” ones but endings that leave me with some hope, the feeling that life goes on, that there is a little light at the end of the tunnel, the possibility of redemption.
    “A good story closes a door and opens a window” – love that quote!


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