Endings Matter

The blurb, cover, buzz, and maybe the first few pages sell the first book in a series. But after that, it’s the ending of the last book that sells the next one. Because every reader has a choice when they reach the end of a book–continue on with the series they’re reading or go read something else.

I just finished reading a book by a new-to-me author. And it was a decent book. Interesting world, good characters, nice twists, nice fantasy elements.

Overall I was giving it a thumbs up. Not my favorite book that I’ve read recently, but solid. It was slow to start, so I wouldn’t have rushed out to buy the next one by this author, but it came together at the end so I probably would have eventually done so when book 2 was out in paperback.

Problem is, the ending. It hit the wrong emotional note.

The core issue of the book was solved, the two main characters worked out their issues, there was some hope for the future but hints that things weren’t perfect, and then…


It turned downward on the last two pages. The couple basically broke up and the future that was shown was bleak.

In a sense it was a cliffhanger. Which can sometimes pull readers to the next book because they want to know what happened. They know they have to keep reading for that emotional payoff.

But in this case it retroactively ruined the last third of the book for me. Like, “Oh, this was where you were headed? Ugh.”

So much writing advice focuses on the first pages. Write that perfect first sentence. Suck them into your story. Grab their attention. Keep them reading. But I think not near enough attention is paid to the ending of a story, which is in one sense even more important.

I can’t remember the first sentence of most stories I’ve read. But I can remember how those stories made me feel at the end.

Which begs the question, what is a good ending for a story?

For me, there has to be an emotional payoff. It doesn’t have to be romantic, but there has to have been a point to the story. The mystery is solved, the good guys win or find the thing, the couple comes together.

We have to end there for a reason. Even if the overall story arc is larger than this one book, there has to be some justification for why this was the ending for the first installment in that larger story.

And for me it has to end on an up beat. There can be that hint that more struggle is coming down the road, but I personally want it to end where things are positive, happy, or optimistic. Or if not optimistic at least resolved to some extent.

(I know some literary novels don’t end that way, but I also don’t enjoy those books.)

So, here, for example, this book could have ended five pages earlier than it did and been a much better ending for me. In my opinion, it should have ended where they solved the mystery and made the agreement that will be the subject of the next book.

Instead it stepped into the bad place. Which means when I closed the book my last lingering memory was “oh, that’s going to be grim” and I have no desire to go there.

Once more and as always, think of your audience and its expectations. Some genres like grimdark maybe are okay with a nihilistic, unhappy ending. But most genre audiences want their emotional payoff to be positive. And if you don’t deliver that, they’ll find an author who does.

Okay. Off to format some non-fiction. Good times.

Good Advice from PCW

It’s been a while since I reminded people that they should be following Patricia C. Wrede’s blog because she gives some excellent writing advice every Wednesday. This week’s post is, in my opinion, a must-read for any author who has ever found themselves stuck or dissatisfied with what they were writing:

Making It Harder Than It Needs To Be

Basically the advice is trust your gut and write what you want to write in the way you want to write it.

I spent a year writing short stories early on because some agent told me they could never sell my novel to the Big 5 if I didn’t have short story credits first. I’m not one for reading short stories and am more naturally inclined towards novel-length ideas and character development so it was a complete change for me.

I didn’t do bad at it (I ended up with some nice personal rejections from some big markets) but man I wish I’d just kept writing novels instead.

Every author probably has something like that. Being told you should plot when you’re a pantser. Or pants when you’re a plotter. Or being told what to write, when to write, or how to write it.

The truth is you need to follow your gut and do what moves you forward and makes it enjoyable for you. Life is too short to not live it in the best way for you.

Also, if you’re looking for a good book about being a writer or living a creative life, I just finished and really liked Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was excellent in a number of ways, but I think each writer will probably take very different things from it depending on their own experiences. Well worth the $10 Amazon is currently charging for the paperback.

Learning To Put Up A Wall

I just responded to a post on another blog that was asking for some how-to-write book recommendations and earlier today I had a Strengths coaching call (I’ve stepped back from coaching for WBF, but I still do private coaching), and I realized that one of the essential skills I’ve had to learn and am still learning as a writer is how to put up a wall against well-meaning advice that doesn’t fit me.

One of the key benefits for me of taking the initial Write Better-Faster class with Becca Syme was that it walked me through how I was a specific type of writer (an almost complete pantser) and how other writers were not.

That let me put up a wall against advice that would work for a plotter but not a pantser.

So, for example, the presentation I watched where an author pulled out their two-inch-thick, three-ring binder that they spend six months preparing before they ever write word one, was not a presentation for me. I was able to put up a mental wall and let that just flow right on by.

But for someone else, that could be an absolutely great approach.

Same with advertising advice.

I’m a huge advocate of using AMS ads. It fits my Strategic Strength and makes my anti-social Relator happy. But it’s become clear to me that there are some people who are not well-suited to using AMS ads. Just like I am not well-suited to throwing book birthday blog blasts or (shudder) live-posting a video in a Facebook group.

I’m convinced that part of the journey of finding your successful writer path is learning how to put up a wall against the bad advice that isn’t going to work for you.

The author I was coaching today can write a novel a month without breaking a sweat. And those novels are good enough to sell tens of thousands of copies upon release. So that author needs to put up the wall against the “you can’t write fast AND good” crowd.

But other authors I’ve coached need lots of time to ruminate on their plot and polish it until it’s a shiny jewel before they ever start writing, so they need to put up a wall against the “just sit down and write and the story will come” crowd.

There is no one true way to do this. And sure there can be room for improvement here or there, but honestly the biggest struggle I’ve seen in my coaching is the author who is working against themselves because they can’t put up that well against well-meaning but bad (for them) advice.

So find who you are and then build your walls and move forward doing what works for you. (Unless you’re high in Woo or Connectedness and the idea of building a wall to keep others out is horrifying. Then don’t. See how that works?)