Land the Plane Already!


I’m a huge film buff, and I’m pretty generous with filmmakers. If they entertain me, I’m not terribly critical. However, there is one area where films and books alike can set off my inner critic.

Endings.

A writer that can’t ‘land’ a book or film drives me nuts. It’s not that I don’t understand their pain. I do. Endings are so difficult. They must be organic and sometimes that means kneading until they are just right. I have read too many books and seen too many films where I thought the book ended, only to face five more endings. Seriously, a book only needs one. The right one.

Find it. Use it.

Some writers know their ending in advance and even write it in advance. This is fine as long as you review and refine it after the book’s written. After all, changes have probably forced adjustments to that ending. Some endings are so perfectly organic, they shock. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” comes to mind. It’s a great example of building to one ultimate ending.

Endings don’t actually have to provide total closure. Some endings leave the opening for sequels in film and series in books. Some endings like to leave questions in the reader’s mind, things to mull over in the aftermath of reading. A lot of  Jodi Picoult’s books are this way. Especially, Change of Heart, which is rife with so many social issues I swore to my husband that there was no way even she could ‘land that plane.’ I’ve never been more thrilled to be wrong in my life. The book is still in my favorites list after all this time. It resonated in my thoughts for years after I read it. A good book, even one that leaves questions in your mind, will always satisfy.

Once a reader invests 200 -500 or more pages with you, they need a pay off. Never wax the ending. A writer should spend as much time polishing that ending as he did the beginning pages used to market the book or the query or pitch to sell the book. In the end, it’s the last thing the reader will remember about your book. Did they walk away satisfied or frustrated?

Are endings tough for you? What’s your favorite book/story ending?

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