Endings are hard. Short stories are hard, but endings – you have to get them right. There are loads of books and short stories that when we reach the very last words, we know they failed. And it is such a disappointment.

People talk a lot about grabbing a reader with that first sentence, but that’s often for agents and publishers to read and dismiss. Sometimes we make decisions to read based on some other criterion. An author whom we know and love, that we have read before, we will often read their next work anyway, knowing they will deliver the goods and forgiving them a dodgy first sentence.

But the ending – we don’t forgive that. Get it wrong and even if you are Mr. Novelling Wonderful from the Best Seller List, we will not appreciate it one little tiny bit. Make those loose ends come together in too pat a fashion, or forget to fasten some of them off at all, and you had better hold onto your parachute, because you will be dropping down to earth with a bump and we may never read you again.

I have read quite a lot of Stephen King and I love a lot of his books, but at the risk of upsetting all you King fans, he can be guilty of a rotten ending. Brilliant, brilliant ideas, master of writing, but sometimes the end is disappointing. Misery is a great read, but in my opinion, the ending is very dodgy. And in a way, I find that reassuring. Great, big, famous writers have trouble too.

I entered a competition recently. Not a biggie, not something very scary, just at my local writers’ group. I did not star. My story was not sufficiently edited, it should have had more time spent on it and the idea may not have been all that good in the first place. But the ending….

The very kind woman who was judging and giving her short criticism of our works, talked about the ending being weak.

I re-read it yesterday and to say it was weak was an understatement. It didn’t so much end as come to a full stop with the most wishy-washy couple of sentences possible.

I am ashamed of myself. What is worse, I want it to have a better conclusion, but at the moment, I am at a loss as to how to finish it.

Very frustrating.

How about you? Do you struggle with endings?


32 responses to “Endings

  1. I think it’s partly because so many writing workshops and writers’ groups focus on beginnings, but not so much on endings. And it is much easier to bluff your way through to an interesting/intriguing beginning than to come up with a good end that adds to instead of weakening your story.

  2. Its not about the ending or the beginning, every line has to be an addiction, that’s just my motto.

  3. Endings are my downfall 😦

    I’ve been told they’re too predictable! Lol


  4. I’m not struggling yet, but then I only started writing some very short stories. All my experience has been in feature writing for magazines and newspapers and they were pretty easy to tie up. But, I do agree with you. A weak ending – the curse of death.

  5. Funny to read this, because I’m dealing with this very issue right now in my WIP. I’ve almost finished my outline (yes, I’m one of those outliners–no more pantsing for me…), and with just a few scenes left to outline, I’m worried my ending isn’t as strong as I thought it would be. I like to hash the ending out as best I can early on, because I agree with you, there’s nothing worse than a great read with a disappointing ending. I’m pleased with the ending of my published book. Now I need to feel the same satisfaction with my current one.

    • And so much attention is given to making the beginning great, but hardly anybody gives advice on ending something in a satisfactory way. Good luck with your ending of your current book. And I’m still a bit of a pantser so the endings need a lot of attention.

  6. Ever consider writing the story to the end, then writing a tight ending and reworking the front from that?

    • Wow, that’s a thought. My story is still giving me a headache – I can’t seem to get to grips with how it should end. Lots of ideas about how it could end, but not happy with any of them.
      Thanks for the idea thought – might well try that out on something else as well, where I have a superb ending but the beginning is rubbish!!

  7. Good post – I know just what you mean, and I felt the same way with Misery, to a certain extent.

    • Thank you.
      I did think that was a bit weak – could have finished it earlier in my opinion and had a better finish.
      But endings are a problem for loads of writers.

  8. Hi Pat, thanks for sharing. I am currently trying to construct an ending, and for sure it is not so simple. I have started a lot of threads and subplots, and I kind of know the very last scenes, but how can I tie it all together, without making a potential reader disappointed? But perhaps we are in good company – http://nyr.kr/SSVPWl

  9. As much as I’m certain that I tied all the loose threads together in ‘A Construct of Angels’, and eased the story to bed, I can never convince myself that I can’t hear (electronic) books slamming shut in disappointment.
    Pat – you commented on Misery, but do we ever feedback that disappointment to the writer? Dare we? :O
    I know of someone who swore never to read Robin Hobb’s books again because the ending (of the two Assassin Trilogies) was ‘too neat’. I thought they worked well. So the ending can be totally subjective, meaning that you can never, ever please everyone.

    • Oh I do agree – pleasing everyone is impossible.
      But an ending should be satisfying, even if it’s predictable, it should be neat enough to complete the whole thought and maybe stirring enough to make you believe you didn’t see quite the whole thing coming.
      And no I have never written to Stephen King telling him that his ending to Misery is a bit rubbish!!!

  10. Endings, beginnings & middles…

  11. I always spend a lot of time on my endings (in between banging my head on a brick wall). To me they have to be ‘just right’ or I get really disappointed and frustrated with myself – they are very difficult!

  12. The agony of professional writers…I am so grateful I am firstly an avid reader en secondly a blogging hack who resents baring my soul in a face-to-face situation and therefore resorts to the faceless world of blogging. I think you write very well. I enjoy your blog. I agree, Stephen King is pathetic with endings. I have actually stopped reading his books for this exact reason.

    • Thank you. You’re very kind. Glad you enjoy the blog, but you wouldn’t enjoy the ending to this particular story. And I don’t want anyone to decide I’m pathetic with endings, so I have to crack this.
      Needing a gentle touch – with an edge. Maybe cracking a smile too.
      That’ll be a piece of cake then. Er, not.
      I’ll get there. 🙂

  13. I agree with Dianne Grey

  14. Pingback: The beginning, the middle and the end | patwoodblogging

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