I have a joke with a few of the writers here on Stiletto that when I’m just about to get to the end of a manuscript but have run out of ideas, my inclination—one that I have never acted on, by the way—is to write “and then they all died.” Because let’s face it, by the time you’ve written eighty thousand words or so, you are bone tired. Tired of your keyboard, tired of your characters, tired of finding new ways to say “murdered.” (I personally like “bought it.”) Eventually, knowing that that is not an acceptable way to end a story, you walk away from your computer and figure out how to tie up the loose ends by not killing all of your major characters, and by extension, your writing career.
I happened upon this topic because I just read a recently published book that skyrocketed to the top of the bestseller list, loving every single page, every single word until I got to the last chapter. Then, the book completely fell apart for me, no resolution to the main conflict that existed for the better part of four hundred words. Several friends and even my mother read this book and I anxiously awaited their comments when they finished. They were all the same:
Loved the book. Hated the ending.
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily like everything tied up in a very neat bow, every single loose end resolved in such a way that there is nary a question or concern upon my finishing of a book. However, I do expect some justice for the aggrieved, some sort of comeuppance for the perpetrator, so to be left hanging leaves me feeling…well, for lack of a better word…aggrieved. Obviously, though, in the case of the aforementioned bestseller, the author didn’t feel the same way, nor did their editor, I can only assume. They both thought that the non-resolution brought forth by the main characters was suitable, maybe more like life itself? I’m not sure. But it did leave a bad taste in my mouth, but not completely diminishing the joy that I felt while reading the book.
The ending of this book didn’t approach my favorite “and then they all died” ending but more like “and they lived…maybe not happily…maybe not forever…but at least for a little while.” It was interesting to me that my visceral response was shared by everyone I knew who read the book as well as a bunch of really ticked off online reviewers whose consternation practically jumped off the screen.
How do you feel when you finish a book and are dissatisfied with the ending? Does it affect future purchases of the same author’s books? Would it drive you to post a vitriolic rant on Amazon? Would it depend on just how unsatisfying the ending was?