Friday, February 4, 2011

It's the end of the book as we know it

The ending to every book is crucial. You can write a stellar book, keep the reader spellbound the entire time, but if you mess up the ending, what does the reader remember?

A lousy ending.

But what makes a GOOD ending in a romance novel... since it is February after all... the month of LOVE!

The Sigh Factor

For ALL endings, no matter the genre, I think there is a common rule (er, okay, guideline, but this is pretty close to a rule if there was one!)

The ending needs to be SATISFYING!

For a romance, I'll even go a step further.

Hero and Heroine have to be TOGETHER at the end. Not always married, but pretty close!

There, I said it. Debate it if you will. Disagree with me or what not. But when I reach the last page of a "romance" novel, I better be 100% sure that these two people are going to end up together. No probably. No foreshadowing. No "I like you so let's see where things lead...." Blah, spit in the sand, throw book across the room. (So I'm a wee bit dramatic....)

Now, if you write suspense with layers of romance, that's a bit different. Same with women's fiction with a romantic element. If romance is secondary and you aren't branding the book as a romance, then do with it what you want--as long as you still have a satisfying ending.

I know I'm coming off highly opinionated on this, but it's important. There's a trust issue that comes into play when a reader invests time to see how this romance will play out. If the book ends with the romance unresolved or unsure, the trust is broken.

By the way, a sequel that resolves it does not make things okay. The only time I was okay with that was Francine River's Mark of the Lion series. But I gotta tell you, unless your first name is Francine and last name is Rivers and you end with the heroine being ... (well, I won't ruin the ending...) good luck with that:-)

The non-eye-rolling Factor

Ever read a book and got to the end and it was just... corny? It's like a writer got to the end, was tired, word count was up, and said, okay, we'll resolve everything and end it now. Two pages later, The End.

An ending should be natural to the story. Organic and needed. Your black moment, right before your ending, should be so bad that you have no choice but to redeem the situation. And your redemption needs to be something more than, "They changed their minds, fell in love, and kissed, the end."

In short, your ending needs to be believable.

The Messy Factor

When we write our novel, there are all sorts of lose ends. For the most part, these need to be tied back up at the end to create our satisfying ending. But they don't have to be nice, neat and predictable. Feel free to add a little pizazz... make your reader glad they finished because they did NOT realize that was going to happen.

This does NOT mean that Joe doesn't kiss Jane and they don't live happily ever after.

And it does NOT mean that Jane slaps Joe and goes and kisses John instead.

But it does mean that Jane might be really close to kissing John before she realizes that Joe is her real true love, and John might get mad and go and try to kill Joe in a jealous rage but Jane steps in and takes the bullet instead and ends up in the hospital, critically ill and Joe comes and they kiss sweetly so as to not hurt Jane and Joe promises to love and cherish her for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, probably a horrible example, but point is, twist it up a little. Think outside the box. Throw your reader a curve-ball, but don't leave them hanging.

Discussion: How do you come up with your endings? What are your favorite type of endings? Do you, like me, absolutely hate it when a romance novel doesn't end with "boy and girl together forever"? Or am I the only romance-novel-purist out there?


Misha Gerrick said...

I.... don't... know... They sort of occur to me.

Happy... unless the ending is unrealistic.

Yes oh yes.

So no, you are not alone.


Julia M. Reffner said...

Oh, yes, I like happy endings. I read a good book recently that left many ends open and that was frustrating...and I REALLY enjoyed this CBA suspense.

However, you're right I think a great author can pull off a suspenseful ending...especially if we know there is more to come. Like Francine. A suspense writer who does this well is Lynette Eason.

Great post, Krista!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Oh, and I agree with you about romance. It has to end happily ever after...not perfect...but happily ever after. I'm a bit more tolerant with the endings of suspense novels or women's fiction.

Beth K. Vogt said...

It took me a while to land the ending of my novel. I know a good romantic novel when I read one--but writing one--whew! That's hard! Believe it or not, my husband gave me a great line for my heroine to say to the hero! Who'd have thought it, huh?

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh, I am a romance purist and MUST have my happy ending. And Beth is right, sometimes writing a good happy ending is not always an easy task. But oh-so worth the effort! :)

Laura S. said...

These are all good points! I disagree a bit with the hero and heroine having to end up together at the end, heehee. Sometimes it feels too contrived. I get to the end, they get together woohoo, and I think well, they will breakup/be divorced in a month. If they're going to get together, it has to be believable. There has to be some kind of buildup, some kind of change that says, yes there's passion and commitment and respect and they'll make it together forever.

I love the bittersweet endings to "Gone with the Wind" and in the movies "The Break-Up" and "My Best Friend's Wedding."

I love happy endings too! I just don't like ridiculous, corny happy endings, lol.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Beth, I can see why your hubby would know what the heroine should say to her hero, who'd know better what to say than someone who could be in the hero shoes?

Krista, I love this post.
I have tossed the unsatisfying book across the room, but have read and reread and reread the together forever book...even though I know the ending.
Together forever books are like chocolate, who wouldn't go back again? sigh:)

Casey said...

It's a formula. Every story has a formula to it and you have to obey that- to a certain extent.

Like Siri Mitchell. I finished Love's Pursuit last night and MAN did I get a curveball! I was in bed, crying, noooo, that can't happen! But it did and you know what, it STILL was brought to a very satisfying ending.

I like happy endings, we don't always get them in life, so to get them in fiction is always great. :) Now you have me wondering about Francine's book... :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

I'm totally with you on the happy endings thing, Krista, especially if it's marked as a romance. All romances must end with a kiss, lol...or something to that effect.

Keli Gwyn said...

I'm all about HEAs. If I come to The End and am not convinced the characters are going to experience the Happily Ever After they worked so hard to reach, I'm mighty unhappy.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Ha! I LOVE your Jane/John/Joe triangle :) And I totally agree with you. If a romance has an unsatisfying ending, the trust is broken. And it's not just readers who expect this! Agents and editors are going to expect a happy ending if you're writing a romance--that's just the way it is. And that's also why many of us read romances in the first place. We WANT a happy ending!

Writing a romance is both easy and hard in that aspect. You KNOW the hero and heroine are going to be together in the end, no surprise there, but you want to make the outlook pretty bleak before they finally unite. Great post!

Krista Phillips said...

Thank everyone!!! Glad I'm not the only purist!!

Laura, good point! However, I'd argue back (I'm a debater at heart...) that those are not pure "romances" but rather drama/comedy/comedy.

I, for one, wasn't a My best Friend's wedding fan. i rooted for her to get together with him the whole time and was just waiting for my HEA, and had to hold back on spitting at the TV at the end.

I guess that's the thing. If I *think* it is a romance, and I don't get my HEA, I'm disappointed. If I know that it's just a fun comedy... I'm good with girl and guy not ending up together.

It's all about expectations of your viewer/reader I think.

Angie Dicken said...

I love a happy ending...but for some reason I am a pessimist and always start out with my story ending tragically...then some inner sanity kicks me in the behind and tells me to switch it.
My biggest pet peeve is when a writer gets cliche at the end... I've seen it done in best sellers, and I've caught myself wanting to do it...why is that???

Debra E. Marvin said...

I worry more about my ending than any other part of the book. If I've held the reader's attention that long, they better be very happy with the ending. I have seen too many fall flat at the end. not good!

Susan Anne Mason said...

You are so right, Krista. Not only does it have to be a happy ending, it has to make you sigh out loud. Happy tears are even better.

I try to make my endings a little different. In a different setting than the rest of the book, doing something a little different and unexpected. Like when the heroine never expects to see the hero again, and there he is, doing something incredible. SIGH.

When you've been building and building to this ending, it HAS to be good.

I Hated the ending in Gone With the Wind. After 4 hours of the movie, I expected Scarlett to come to her senses, and Rhett the idiot should have forgiven her. Even an epilogue would have worked. Oh well, in my mind, I rewrote the ending! LOL.