How to Create Satisfying Endings or Avoiding the Paper Tiger
By Alison Chambers
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Ever notice when a movie ends abruptly without a satisfactory ending, the audience groans or elicits sounds of surprise, as though they’re unhappy? Books are that way too. Have you ever finished a book and been so disappointed with the way the story ended that you slammed it shut in disgust or worse yet, threw it against the wall or into the trash?
What causes such disappointment in readers?
1. Characters act irrationally, i.e., out of character. A weak character suddenly becomes strong or vice-versa, without any explanation concerning why he or she is suddenly changing and turning into Superman or Superwoman.
Solution: Characters should have proper motivation. If a character is about to do battle with snakes in the ending and hates snakes, foreshadow that fear by mentioning it in the beginning of the book so readers know what to expect and it makes sense. If characters change, explain why they are changing throughout the book.
2. Things are tied up by coincidences, i.e. deus ex machina: “A plot development that didn’t previously exist and has no logical explanation behind it; a coincidence that is too unlikely to be believed.” The phrase comes from the Greek where the god suddenly appeared through a trap door in the stage to solve the writer’s plot problem.
Solution: If it seems too unlikely a solution, it probably is. Don’t get your characters into a situation you cannot logically get them out of. If they’re in a cave hunting treasure, don’t let them accidentally find a weapon that will allow them to escape. You don’t want readers to say: “What a lucky break!” or “I don’t buy that!”
3. Loose ends are not tied up, leaving questions in the reader’s mind. Readers are scratching their heads, asking themselves whatever happened to this or that character or subplot line.
Solution: Carefully review each scene and character to make sure everything is explained in the last few pages.
4. Paper Tigers
You think the characters are dealing with a terrible villain or problem. They are facing insurmountable odds. You can’t wait to uncover the solution in the last chapter. When you learn the problem is not as great or as dangerous as you’d feared, that’s called a paper tiger and that’s when you want to throw the book against the wall. You say to yourself: “What a let-down!” The story is forever diminished in your eyes, you feel as though you have been tricked, and you vow never to read a book by that author again.
Solution: Make sure your problem or your villain is truly dangerous, the situation is life-threatening and the stakes are high so readers are not disappointed.
And remember, romances always have a happy ending. When you bring your characters back together in the end to live happily ever after, you should have a good reason in mind. They shouldn’t reunite just for the heck of it. Again, good character motivation and logical reasoning is the key.
Let your readers close their books with a smile, satisfied they have just finished a great ride and hopefully, they will remember your name and want to read more!
You owe it to them and to yourself!