“Because We Hate Endings”*

A big problem in my fiction is that my endings are too rushed. I used to think this might be part and parcel of the No Description problem, but I realize now it’s a separate issue. A number of readers raised this complaint with all my early stories, and while I tried to improve in The Directorate, it still came up.

It’s also proven to be a problem with the novel I’m working on now. Several beta readers have said the same thing, and I agree with them. The ending is, once again, too rushed.

At this point, you might be thinking, “So add more stuff then, stupid!”

The problem with that is I can think of nothing else to add. The ending comes along when it does because all the pieces are in position, and it seems natural to tip the first domino and set things in motion. If I add extraneous material, readers will notice that I’m just killing time.

I hate when authors drag things out. The best example I can think of is Stephen King’s 11/22/63. While I liked some parts, there were also times when I wanted to yell, “Just get on with it already!” Since the book hinges on an event which happened in the past and which the reader is anticipating, the way King stalled with one “the past is obdurate” setback after another was annoying to read.

In general, I’d rather something be too short than too long. If a reader thinks it’s too short, it implies they want to read more. Whereas if it bores them by being too long, they’re unlikely to read anything by the author again.

But, better than being too short or too long is being exactly the right length. I have reached a paradoxical point where the book isn’t as long as it needs to be, yet making it any longer would feel too long. Which is another way of saying that something is missing, but I don’t know what it is.

*The title isn’t mine. It’s the title of a Let’sPlay of Knights of the Old Republic II, my favorite video game of all time, which is also notorious for its allegedly rushed ending.

11 Comments

  1. Commiserations! My problem is usually the opposite – I’m too long winded. That said, though, I totally agree with the ‘bits all coming together’ part. When that happens, you /have/ to write ‘finis’. Perhaps the problem with your endings isn’t that they’re too abrupt but that your readers haven’t been primed enough earlier.

    Not sure if other readers experience this, but I find I need to have things explained/hinted at a number of times during the course of a story so that by the time the end does come around, I have a feeling of inevitability about it [in a good way]. I think readers need those repetitions because we’re seeing the story from the outside and don’t have the author’s intimate ‘feel’ for the story. I hate to do the old ‘show don’t tell’ chestnut, but it /is/ like the difference between being told that character X is now happy/sad/resigned/whatever and being shown character X acting out those emotions in [hopefully] subtle ways.

    Best of luck with the new novel. I look forward to reading it. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! Yes, you’re exactly right–things need to be properly set up for the reader or it won’t work. Hopefully I can make it happen. Thanks again. 🙂

  2. This is one of the biggest challenges … how to end a story. When I was struggling with The Irreparable Past, part of the issue was how to end it. And I was also driven by a word count objective that I was struggling to meet. That’s when I tweeted that word count doesn’t define the story, the story defines the word count. I think the same logic can apply to the ending – your story and how you’ve written it defines how you will, or should, end it. And that’s why the ending of the thing is such a challenge.

    Here’s the other thing … you are the artist, the creator of the world your story inhabits. Don’t be afraid of being a dictator in that world.

  3. If the ending brings closure don’t worry if it’s short. It’s more frustrating as a reader where the author has left things hanging or forgot to tidy up a plot point or two. The only time you can get away with this is to set up a sequel. If you think your endings are too tidy, mess them up a bit. Maybe having something not go as planned or a person die that’s not expected etc.

    1. Good idea. The ending to this book I’m working on now is probably the tidiest one I’ve ever done… at least, as of now. 😉

  4. Oi, endings are a weak spot for me as well. I think the combined points of the other commenters got it: Every story should be as long as it needs to be and the ending should provide resolution to the all of the story questions you’ve wound up posing along the way. It can help to study books (or even TV shows and movies) that you’ve thought were successful with their endings. Learn from the masters, as they say!

    1. Yes, indeed.Funny that you say endings are your weak spot–I always like how you do them. 🙂

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