When I was a kid, the vast majority of books that I ready ended with a happy ending.
But, then I read a book in junior high that had a sad and unexpected ending. I vividly remember going back and rereading the final few pages because I just knew I must have “read it wrong” or “misunderstood.”
I had read for hours, only to be “rewarded” with a tragic ending?
Later, I would learn the terminology for that type of story was called a tragedy.
A literary tragedy consists of brave characters who confront powerful obstacles. They exemplify the resiliency of the human spirit when faced with danger…. and may even end in death. The characters are likable, making their suffering distressing for the reader. And, they often have a tragic flaw that becomes the reason for their downfall. And, finally, there is that heartbreaking ending.
Even though a character may lose everything in the end, if he takes responsibility for his actions, if he affirms human values, the reader is often filled with hope for mankind.
You may decide not to write a true tragedy. However, there are still some techniques you can use to make each scene or chapter in your book a “page turner” or “cliff hanger”:
- Use an ellipsis (…) so readers will be left with an unfinished thought.
- Ask a question (so the reader will wonder what might happen or cause them to madly search Amazon for the next book in the series).
- Share negative or conflicting inner thoughts for your characters to reveal their inner turmoil.
- Make sure your scenes are very descriptive and I vary the sentence length to take readers from intense action to peaceful interludes and then return to a faster pace.
- I have written a “less than satisfying ending” which is then addressed in the Epilogue.