Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The End?

I want to know when it became trendy to have abrupt, unsatisfying ending to a novel. Did I miss a writer’s memo or something?

I’ve read two books recently and both of them, to varying degrees, had unsatisfactory endings. I really enjoyed The Town that Forgot How to Breathe, but right at the peak of the plot’s climax, it just ended. Thankfully, there was an “Afterward” chapter, that summed things up a little, but it still didn’t answer all the questions I had. It was as if I had gotten to know all these interesting characters, but then didn’t have a chance to tell them “bye”. In this case, I think the author was trying to be artsy.

In the other book I just finished, 13 Bullets, the book ended in the middle of a scene. It was so abrupt; I actually checked the binding because I thought someone had ripped out the last few pages. Then when I thought about it, I realized that maybe the author was trying to be edgy. Also, I have a sneaky suspicion he left the story blatantly open in order to turn the book into a series. In fact, the more I thought about it, I decided that was the case. There hasn’t been a segueway cliffhanger as obvious as this one since the “Han Solo encased in carbonite” bit from the Empire Strikes Back. In my humble opinion, even if you want to turn a book into a series, each book should stand complete on its own. This one definitely didn’t do that. No satisfactory ending. I felt ripped off. Like I had just gone on this long journey, only to find out there was no purpose to it.

(Needless to say, I’ve been learning what not to do, when I go to write my own novel. So I guess there was something to be gained from both of these reading experiences.)

Now that the final Harry Potter book has come out, I’m even more nervous. If there was ever pressure from a zillion fans, to craft a satisfactory end to their favorite series – whew – I sure am glad I’m not J.K. Rowling. Writing is hard enough without all that external pressure. I just hope she doesn’t take a cop-out ending and that whatever happens to Harry and the gang, the ending is fulfilling, satisfactory and nothing is left unresolved.

On that note, I’m off to try and finish reading Deathly Hallows so I can discuss it with my friends. While I’m doing that, I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know what book or movie you really enjoyed, but left you with a bad taste in your mouth because of the crummy ending.


Mike Olbinski said...

I agree, the ending of a book is the whole key to it I think. And if a book ends in the middle of a scene...then what good is that?

It's like the Sopranos episode everyone was talking about. It just "ended" without anything.

I hope you like the end of Hallows, I think you was a spectacular ending and finish to the series.

And not sure if Shawn has told you, but I'm trying to write a book too (ever so slowly) and I think reading all these others gives you great ideas for your own...and even what NOT to do.

Kathleen said...

I am sure J K Rowling had major pressure to end her series well, but I don't think you will be disappointed. She doesn't strike me as the kind of author to leave her readers in a lurch. ;) I never watched the Sopranos, but if I had I am sure I would have been horribly disappointed! I have hope the the Lost writers won't leave us dry, so I am looking forward to a great ending to that story as well. I think it is a total cop out to leave a story unfinished. There is no point. Why even begin if that is your point. It just shows that the authors are lazy or unskilled, because they start a story and do not have the ability to end it well. It really does matter.

Anonymous said...

Hey there. I agree that an ending really can make or break a story. Often it feels like author's take the easy way out - they've got a great idea, they lay it out there, but have no idea how to tie it all up. But two things came to mind from your post, Davina. One was "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, a SciFi novel with one of the best endings I have ever read. The other was the thought that bad endings are more prevalent in movies and TV. There are usually more authors tweaking something, and they're often adapting other people's work. Given that scenario, some endings can go very very wrongo. Case in point: the TV version of Stephen King's IT (the book's ending was weirdly satisfying, the movie's was annoyingly weird). I also think Kathleen's right about ending a TV series. That can be very difficult. The last episode of Seinfeld didn't work for me, for example. -Chad