Sunday, November 06, 2011

ENDINGS

If you want to read about the process of putting together the collection MONKEY JUSTICE with SNUBNOSE PRESS, you can find an interview by Elaine Ash with Brian Lindenmuth right here.



I am sure I've asked this question before but it came up when I read a book review that liked many things about a novel, but found fault with the ending in that the reviewer claimed to have seen it coming.

This sort of surprised me because I almost never expect to be surprised by the ending unless I am reading classic mysteries or cozies. This book was neither. In a way, endings should be inevitable--given what we know about the characters.

If the writing is good, the characters interesting, I am never trying to see past the writing to the ending. Unless, as I said, the story is set up like an Agatha Christie whodunnit where the ending trumps everything.

What about you? As you read, are you trying to anticipate the ending? Can an ordinary ending ruin a good book? Does an ending out of left field, leave you cold?

HOW IMPORTANT ARE ENDINGS? HOW IMPORTANT IS BEING SURPRISED?

26 comments:

Charlieopera said...

I always prefer the trip to arriving at the final destination, which is probably why I prefer open endings. Elmore Leonard does that to me (make the trip so enticing I don't care about the ending) ... but every once in a while a surprise ending rocks me pretty good. Dave (Cheatriots) Zeltserman shocked me pretty good with the ending to one of his trilogy (I'm thinking Pariah); never saw the end of that one coming and it was a very effective shock. I'm sending him some love today because his Cheatriots have to face the Moonachie Blue team (the one that ruined their perfect season a few years back--although it sure was a perfect season to me).

I just read John McFetridge's Let It Ride and liked the open end to that one a lot.

Chad said...

Like you, I try not to guess the ending unless it's a classic mystery. Otherwise, I think you spoil the ride.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Really interesting question! For me it depends on what I'm reading. The ending has to fit with the rest of the book if I'm to enjoy it. I get more annoyed with an abrupt ending that doesn't make sense than I do with an ending I can predict.

Martin Edwards said...

Very good question. I love writing and reading endings, and I do think they matter a very great deal. I do prefer an element in an ending that's unpredictable and I agree with Margot that endings shouldn't be too abrupt.

Dan_Luft said...

I will try to anticipate an ending if I've heard that it's "great -- you'll never see it coming." Of course that has killed a lot of decent movies and books for me. I was so on the lookout for something while watching "The Usual Suspects" that I had it figured out halfway through and honestly can't remember whether it was a decent movie. If I hadn't heard the hype I could've just watched it and enjoyed it. It' a bad habit for me.

Most stories are not so brilliantly structured that they can hold up under heavy scrutiny. That doesn't mean they're poorly written or less fun.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Unexpected or surprise endings usually play more prominently in classic mysteries, I think. Puzzles. Books where plot is very important--more so than character-driven stories.
A really good ending--one that is inevitable, a bit of a surprise, well-constructed, realistic is a thing of beauty.
I find the ending of Murder on the Orient Express very unsatisfying because it is so unlikely--and unnecessary. But I know many people love it.

Deb said...

When it comes to mysteries, I like to be pleasantly surprised by the ending and then go back and see all the clues and how all the pieces fit together.

Despite Jane Smiley's contention that, at heart, all novels are mysteries because something is always being uncovered, when it comes to non-mysteries, I agree that while the ending might result in some mild surprise, it shouldn't come totally out of left field.

The thing that bugs me the most is when I feel that I'm smarter than any of the characters in the book. I read one where I knew by page 38 that a female character had been molested by her father. 167 pages later, a doctor says, "Molested? I never would have thought." Sorry Doc, but the rest of us saw it coming by chapter 2. The author of that book should have known readers would see it and not try to make it a huge "shocking revelation."

LJR said...

I don't need a surprise or twist ending in a mystery, but I agree with Deb, in that the story is a turn off if it gets overly predictable.

To use the travel metaphor, it doesn't matter that I know my destination, but the journey there should be full of excitement and entertainment. The protagonist is like a tour guide, who makes the trip unique through engaging insights and activities.

George said...

Mickey Spillane used to write the last chapter first, that way he knew how the book was going to end. Diane reads the endings of books before she starts them (her only fault). I always want endings to surprise and delight me. The worst books don't really end...they just stop.

Charles Gramlich said...

The thing that kills endings for me is that they are anti-climactic, like the ending to "IT." I like being surprised but it doesn't happen too often, and not being surprised doesn't make me enjoy the book less.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Women in my book group read the ending first. I never understood this although I sometimes do it when I know I am not going to finish a book. On occasion the ending was good enough that I did go back and read the rest of a book I had written off.
Delight you because it turns out well or because it is clever or because you are surprised.
I like open-ended endings best.

Anonymous said...

It depends. As a very experienced mystery reader I am not totally shocked with surprise very often (though it happens occasionally). More often than that I'm way ahead of the main character to the extent of thinking "this is just so incredibly obvious he can't be going there" (example - see Andrew Grant's awful second book, DIE TWICE).

I see Deb has the same problem. In one of the Reacher books (at least one) the normally brilliant Reacher missed something I thought was pretty obvious.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS I thought was really well done and I didn't guess the ending until just a few moments before it happened. I liked that movie a lot.

You mean they read the ending first like Billy Crystal in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY? I would never do that.

And I feel exactly the opposite of you Patti - I want things clear and settled and definitive. I don't want an open or ambiguous ending.

Occasionally I feel an author ruins a book by needing th be too clever, having one too many twists to say "Gotcha" to the reader. That was what ruined the otherwise very good Michael Connelly book THE POET for me.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

But don't you want to imagine where things might go next. It's like in Hamlet, when everybody dies, it's nicely tied up but the reader or viewer can't enter the narrative at all. Maybe this is more true in straight fiction, but I like to puzzle on their futures. Wonder what the next scene might be.

George said...

In mysteries, readers almost demand a surprise ending (Christie's specialty). In thrillers, an open-ended ending is acceptable (they usually lead to sequels). I prefer clever, sly endings. There's a delight when the author can pull a rabbit out of hat on the final page.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very nice indeed.

Dave Zeltserman said...

When you pick up a classic noir novel from James M. Cain or Jim Thompson, you know it's going to end badly for the protagonist, and that doesn't lessen one bit the pleasure of the book or the emotional ride the novel provides. Same as when you're reading a Nero Wolfe or Agatha Christie novel--you know the culprit is going to be unveiled in the end, and it almost doesn't matter who it is--the joy of the book is the journey. Whether the ending is a surprise or not or even open ended, the important thing is that the ending needs to be satisfying. And if it's a surprise ending, it needs to be done organically where the entire book is leading to that surprise, and not a last minute trick--Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg is a great example of a surprise ending that is honest and natural. Another is Something Happened by Joseph Heller. But again, endings don't need to surprise or shock me to be satisfying.

And Charlie--go Patriots!

Ron Scheer said...

I know only one rule for endings. They have to be both unpredictable and inevitable.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Unpredictable endings are fine to an extent but certainly not on a scale that Rowling gives us. She bumps off too many people and nearly all of them are from the Potter side. I don't always buy the argument that the story merited it. To digress a bit, one movie whose ending took me by surprise was INCEPTION where Di Caprio's character suddenly finds himself in an eternal dream state in the end. I thought that was brilliant because nobody expected it.

Dorte H said...

I NEVER try to guess the ending - I like being surprised, but if characters, plot and writing are okay, I don´t mind. What makes a book unique is NOT the writer´s ability to come up with something entirely new. If they try too hard, the stories often seem incredible and contrived.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's my new rule, Ron.
I never try to guess either-it just doesn't occur to me.
I wonder how LD will be in Hoover.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll occasionally find an ending a letdown. Sometimes an ending will seem too pat to me, as if the author ended the story because he or she had to, and did a neat job of it, but without quite the edge of what had gone before. A scintillating ending is a wonderful thing, but I think we overestimate the importance of endings. Beginnings are vastly more important.

That's novels. Shorts are a different story.
======================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

pattinase (abbott) said...

And middles. That's the part that often lets me down because it meanders too much. Or is too long. I just closed a book 2/3 way through. No end could save the dithering.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I generally won't get that far if the book dithers. I've probably missed out on a good book or two because of my impatience with their openings.

Anonymous said...

Patti, a little late but I was thinking about this yesterday and what you said. Of course there is a big difference between a mystery and "straight" fiction. Yes, I do sometimes wonder about characters in a book and what happens to them after the last page. I was just making a point about needing to know the answer to the mystery rather than leaving that open.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Phil and I talked about this last night and agreed, mysteries require more definite endings. Not necessarily "the who did it" kind. But a resolution to the case or whatever. Even if the case is not solved, there must be a reason for the failure=-perhaps a failure in the system, the character, something. It can not just stop like some straight fiction does.

Thomas Pluck said...

I dig on character over plot. I like mysteries and cozies but my favorite stories are a bit on the lazy side, the kind I don't want to end, whether I'm sad to close the book that last time.
Calling back to your "long books" post, I've felt this for short books but rarely for long ones. After 400 pages, there had better be a dozen characters I care about. I've slogged through a couple like Cryptonomicon, The Stand, It, but most would have been fine if they'd been shortened a bit.

The ending can have a pretty bow on it if it's that kind of story- Wodehouse, cozies, comedy... but lately that's annoyed me in thrillers, if things close too perfectly. I'd rather be left wondering a little.