How important is it for the ending of a novel to satisfy?
To what extent can an author be held responsible for this, or is it down to the heart and mind of the reader?
In 2012 I published an online article about novel endings in which I quoted Robert McKee in his excellent book Story. He describes many different types of endings, in popular films and novels. He says the main protagonist may not achieve their desire, but ‘the flood of insight that pours from the gap delivers the hoped-for emotion… in a way we could never have foreseen.’
I believe the end to a novel must satisfy, wheher it be ironic, bittersweet, tragic, creepy, heartbreaking, chilling, shocking, tantalising or fairy-tale happy.
A good end to a story may deal out poetic justice, wisdom, truth, comedy, surprise, a frisson of terror… but it should never be disappointing, pointless, depressing, or (worst of all, I think) unnecessary.
I believe this last charge could be levelled at Louis de Bernieres for his ending of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – a book which otherwise made a strong impact on me and which I found compelling.
Recently I’ve spoken to a few people about unsatisfying novel endings. I heard this comment from my 17 year old son about the end to GP Taylor’s young adult novel Shadowmancer: “I was left wondering what on earth had happened. I felt disappointed.”
I know I am not alone in my reaction to the end of Louis de Bernieres’s novel. To me, the end of the story was unnecessary and pointless; it made me feel angry. I don’t even believe that a poor ending to a novel can be justified by the notion that “well, life is like that”. Even if cruel irony plays its part in the outcome, nevertheless, we should feel that the end plays an essential part in the organic whole of the world which the novel presents.
I’ve also heard some negative reactions to the final outcome of CS Lewis’s Narnia stories. I myself felt slightly unsatisfied and disappointed. I felt that in some curious undefined way it was “a cop-out”. Others have reacted more strongly to this disappointment. CS Lewis’s finale made them furious, having loved the books so much!
I hope that the end of my novel A Passionate Spirit will satisfy. Whether it will chill, or shock, or surprise… I’ll leave that up to you, my future reader!
7 thoughts on “Is it an Author’s Responsibility to Write a Satisfying Conclusion?”
Very interesting post. I can remember feeling furious at the ending of The Old Curiosity Shop by Dickens. I was so cross I threw the book across the bedroom when I finished it. But having said that it is the reaction that Dickens wanted I am assuming. I assume he wanted people to see what happens to real people in real situations, so they would be motivated to change things.
I do agree with you about The Old Curiosity Shop. However the enduring image that remains with me about the end of that novel is of Quilp’s death, cut off by his own wickedness from those who would have helped him. Perhaps we take what we want from the ending of a novel, depending upon the lens through which we view the world. Perhaps that’s why I posed the question of the author’s responsibility; it’s certainly true that once a book is written and published, it then takes on a life of its own, and the readers are free to make what they will of the book.
I agree with your thoughts about the ending and empathizing with the readers! For some stories we actually feel angry at end or not satisfied, the responsibility of author lies in accomplishing the end result in accordance to expectation he set in minds of readers in the novel!
Yes, I agree that the author must answer the major questions he/she poses to the reader in the first few chapters of the novel. This is the contract that every great story sets up between author and reader. When a reader chooses to invest time in reading a novel. “I promise I will pose major questions which you will really care about and want to know the answer to. And I promise that if you read all the way through the novel I will provide satisfying answers to those questions.”
Reblogged this on Lance Greenfield.
I felt similarly about Gone Girl – a really strong plot-line seemed to fizzle out a bit at the end. (Although I enjoyed The Last Battle!)
That’s interesting – I haven’t read “Gone Girl” but have looked at the reviews and have seen that several reviewers had problems with the end of the story.