Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sucky Endings

I'm plotting.

I know, sympathies accepted. the drudgery of the outlining phase, I dug through old notebooks and came across a really fantastic set of notes I took on

How to avoid writing a sucky ending

Here's what not to write:

Duh: an ending that's obvious to everyone but the MC (the shadowy figure with the bad breath that the MC keeps ignoring)

Over-the-top: an ending with an overdose of drama or violence (the MC holds everyone at bay with a machine gun)

Spill all: Think Scooby Doo. The antagonist, for no apparent reason, begins to talk-talk-talk

And then I woke up: an ending that suggests the rest of the book is a dream or didn't really happen

Out of sight: the all important ending confrontation happens off stage

But, but, but: the ending fails to tie up all the loose ends and explain why things happened.

Yeah, right: the ending leaves the reader having to assume that some key part of what happened was due to coincidence

Now it's time for true confessions.

Let me start by saying I hope I don't do these any longer...but I have in years past been guilty of: out of sight, duh and spill all. I think I've learned...but it's always good to have a reminder.

Question: I know you'd never do it now, but have you ever committed any of these ending crimes in your early writing years? Have you read books with disappointing edgings? What was it about the ending that made it so?



Joyce Wolfley said...

Endings are rough. I hope my is satisfying while still leaving it open for the sequel. I don't do any of these things...I hope. Oh boy, I better go reread it to make sure the loose ends are all tied in a nice tidy bow.

MeganRebekah said...

My problem is finding the balance between exciting and over-the-top. No machine guns involved though! :)

Cindy said...

I'm pretty sure I've pulled an "out of sight" and a "yeah, right" in my day. I've read so many books with endings that were disappointing. I hate when books end abruptly or the climax and resolution all happens in one page. And I don't like when there is a cliffhanger ending that has no purpose other than to simply shock the reader. And I sort of don't like sad endings either but at least those can be better justified. Boy, am I
picky! :D

T. Anne said...

I'm probably guilty of a little of everything. The scooby-doo ending for sure. (rest assured it's been re-written)

L.T. Elliot said...

I've pulled a "duh" before. Silly, silly me of yesteryore.
I hate "yeah, right" endings and "it was just a dream" endings too. I like the *contented sigh* endings and the *when does the next book come out?!* endings.

Tess said...

Joyce: yes, endings are tough - it's finding that balance when we are so excited to write 'the end'. I'm sure these are all things of the past for us, however :)

MeganRebekah: no machine guns? darn! I like an exciting can really make me want a sequel.

Cindy: isn't it fun to look back at our early writing? My 'out of sight' wasn't too long ago...but I fixed it, thank heavens!

T.Anne: I'm still a scooby-doo fan, and I'm sure it has been re-written. We can get away with those things in our earlier drafts, right?

LT: Yes! I like the contented sigh ending as well :) Whats the formula for that? Easier said than done, I think.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Considering I haven't been at this writing novels thing too long, I have no "early years" experience. Oh wait, THIS is my early years experience :) I do have a "spill most" moment but its not the ending of the book.
And four people have been bugging me for book two so hopefully, that means my ending was a good one. :)

Scott said...

The Memory Keeper's Daughter had a crappy ending. Thankfully (yes, the rest of this sentence falls under the heading 'oxymoron') when Lifetime TV adapted the book, they changed the ending and made it far more satisfying. Yes, they did.

I had a few of those moments in my early years, but hope I've worked out those kinks. I normally try to tie up all the loose ends. My characters don't, however, all end up with happily ever after. : ) Sometiimes, I leave a character or two still struggling with . . . life.


p.s. got the gift card yesterday. thanks . . .even though i do have to spend it all in one place. ;)

Jill Kemerer said...

First--I love plotting! Go ahead and throw rotten tomatoes at me.
Second--I've been guilty of the Scooby Doo RECENTLY. Ruh-Roh. Go ahead and throw rotten tomatoes...
Ha! Ha!
Thanks for the breakdown of bad endings. Made me smile.

Michelle said...

I wrote a story in high school which I later revised and submitted for creative writing in college. It had(hangs head, stares at floor)the main character wake up and realize it was all a dream. Compounded with the dreaded twist that it might not have been a dream after all. My apologies to my writing professor, who was very kind about that ending, even though it was against his nature, and he was generally a tough enough critic that I cried when I got home.

That confessed, I agree that endings are hard to write. When I was working on my MG novel, I had more problems writing the last two chapters than anything else in the book. How do you tie up all the loose ends and bring a satisfying conclusion? And why, oh why, are all the workshops and chapters in writing books about "great beginnings" and character development? Why is no one offering piles of advice about "great endings" and what to do with those characters in the final moments of their stories when they've already changed their ways and improved for the better? (glances around, realizes she was shouting, and humbly sits back down to wait for the reaction of the rest of the room.)

Corey Schwartz said...

Great post. I am going to Tweet about it.

Wendy said...

But, but, but. I'm not always a fan of pretty bow endings so I tend not to write those...but there is a balance between a pretty bow and shredded yarn, leaving the reader frustrated...learning that balance.
~ Wendy

Tess said...

I love a good discussion - and I love when not everyone's the philosopher in me. Excellent points, guys.

Wendy - you are right. It doesn't have to be a 'happy' ending. My ms ending is not exactly happy. She doesn't get everything she wants - but the murder is solved without being too obvious (I hope) and loose ends are explained. You are so right -- it's all abut balance in those instances.

Corey - cool! tweet-on.

Michelle- great comment. My first draft of my ms I wrote along the lines of ... 'what do you know, ray?' and then he spills, spills, spills. It took some work to go back and clean it up. Ah, good times. good times ;)

Jill - seriously? will you be my friend and come over and plot my novel for me? I'll give you the general premise and you can do the nasty detail work. that would be fantastic!

Scott - so true! I loved the start of that novel and was so let down by the ending. It's like her editor said "today's the deadline, finish it or else" and she just wrote 'the end' and called it good.

Karen Amanda - sounds like you're ahead of the game. I still use some of these things in my early drafts then have to go back, see them for what they are, and clean them up. Some of us (me) are just slow learners :)

Anonymous said...

Writing the end of the novel was more difficult that i had ever imagined, but these are some really good points to bare in mind. thanl goodness my novel has finally come to an emotional and hard working end so its just a matter of edit edit edit edit edit, proof read more proof reading and son on!!!! hey! love your blog can't wait to catch up with your posts

Lynnette Labelle said...

Loved this post, especially the Scooby Doo comment. I always thought it was pretty convenient that the villain explained everything at the end of the show (and that's when I was only a kid watching it.)

Lynnette Labelle

superpaige said...

I really do like a happy ending, as trite as that may sound.

Robyn said...

I have committed at least three of these offenses. And I'm glad because it led me down a brighter writing path. In other words, I can write better because of the earlier crap that I wrote! Love the post, Tess. :)

Robyn said...

Forgot to say how much I loved the title,How To Avoid Writing A Sucky Ending. :)

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

You forgot one. "Deus es machina". This is when some wild gadget or surprise character we haven't met rides in and saves the day. It literally means something like, God has left the machine.
I heard the term at my critique group once. I was sitting way at the end of the table, couldn't hear very well and asked, "Did you say Doula Sex Marky-Mark?"
That's what we call it now.

Tess said...

Thanks for the laugh Amy.

Doula Sex Marky-Mark. That's what I'll name my next child :D