Friday, April 24, 2015

Why are Most Book Endings the Same?

By Kelly Bridgewater

For the past two weeks, I have discussed opening lines and ways to strengthen that saggy middle, but today, I have a question. Why do most books have the same cliché ending?

Funny question, isn’t it? Something I have been thinking about for a while.
Every contemporary romance, historical romance, historical, romantic suspense, and mystery does it. Does what? You might be asking.

The ultimate question: Why have the same ending? You know, the ones I’m talking about. The wedding or the proposal at the end of the book. The mystery solved and the bad guy taken to prison while the hero and heroine look lovingly into each other’s eyes, promising to be there for each other until the end of time.

But . . .

When you watch television, majority of televisions shows do not sum up their entire series by the end of an episode. They prolong the big fight or the bad guy until the end of the twenty-two episode series. By doing this, the creators, writers, and producers are tempting the viewers to come back week after week, panting for what happened with the cliff hanger the week before.

One of my favorite shows that did this was Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Ever season, Buffy and her friends had to fight some ultimate evil like the Master, Angel, the Mayor, Glory, Adam, or the Priest, but every episode ended with Buffy being farther from defeating her enemy. It made me anxious to come back and see what happens next week.

 But books are not that way. They sum up the mystery by the end of each volume. Even if the book is part of a series. Fantasy is the exception because I have seen them end the story with the hero and heroine on the run while the reader has to wait for the next book to find out what happens next. Some examples are: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Song of the Seare by C. E. Laureano, The Staff and the Sword by Patrick Carr, and The Storm Siren Trilogy by Mary Weber.

One of my favorite authors, Steven James, breaks this mold too. In each of his Patrick Bowers’ books, he creates a conflict and solves it by the story’s end, but there is an overarching mystery that haunts every single book. Waiting a whole year for another one of the installments drove me nuts. I wanted to know what happened now.

Here is a quick example:  In Knight (which is one of James’s best book in my opinion), Bowers solved the mystery that was the driving force of Knight, but James taunted his readers by dangling a mystery to lead to the next book. Read the last couple of lines in the book: “Sunlight spilled and sprayed around him. Wet screams echoed through the tunnel. And the Knight began to tell a brand-new story to the curious, waiting world” (492). As a reader, I thought the mystery was solved, but James drags me in and begs to return to The Bishop. After finishing Checkmate last December (which is a great ride by the way), I finally found out who the Knight truly was. It only took four more books to find the answer.

As for my own three-part series, I am tempting to accomplish the same thing. I’m creating a story where the individual mystery appears to be solved, but by the time the reader opens the next book, they were wrong. I know it is different, but I think it will be neat if I can pass it off.

Would you read a story that is not neatly finished by the first book? What do you like about books or movies where nothing is left unsaid?


  1. Kelly, you've made a good point. I'm near the end of first draft of a suspense novel. I had intended it to be a stand alone, but have since thought of two sequels. I have a clue planted at the end that will lead into the next book.

    A few years ago, I read Mary DeMuth's Daisy Chain trilogy. The killer wasn't revealed until the third book, but she kept the suspense through all three.

  2. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Joan. I need to read Mary DeMuth's.books. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. I think it can be a tricky balance to provide enough resolution that the reader's satisfied with the end of the book, while leaving enough unresolved to make the reader actively seek out its sequel. That's one thing I loved about Jessica Dotta's Price of Privilege series. Some goals are achieved in each book and the story moves forward, but enough is left unresolved that I couldn't help but read the next one ASAP! :)

  4. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Karen. I greatly appreciate it! I agree it can be a tricky balance, but as writers, we do whatever we need to do to make the readers happy.