Exceeding Expectations

Authors will tell you that a book should have a satisfying end.

But just what is a “satisfying end”?

As a reader, I think of it as a conclusion that leaves me feeling that everything worked out as it “should.” The guy gets the girl, the man gets a promotion, the marriage is saved, the woman beats cancer, the cops catch the killer. 

The reader is satisfied.

But, what if we try to answer the question from the author’s point of view?

What if the outcome is not popular with his readers? Maybe it is not a socially acceptable ending, touts a particular political viewpoint that the majority of readers just cannot agree with, or the ending is a cliffhanger that doesn’t answer “Who done it?” or leaves readers scratching their heads and wondering “what happened?”

What if they just don’t “get it?”

Readers are left sad, angry, or frustrated that they just spent five hours reading something that didn’t end the way they had hoped.

Readers pay “good money” for our books and deserve to get whatever the author promised on the back cover and/or in their marketing. Writers create certain expectations in their readers’ minds and—as much as possible—we need to meet them.

A good author delivers. 

And, a great author exceeds expectations.

The End?

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I remember going to my first movie with my Uncle Bill—and crying when it was over.

There was no escaping it because “THE END” was written in huge letters on the screen.

The world is full of more sophisticated movie-goers nowadays. No longer are those words written in books or on the silver screen.

So, how does one know the story is over? When the screen goes dark? When there are no more pages to turn?

Well, readers and movie-goers aren’t the only ones that have gotten more sophisticated over the years. Writers have, too.

First of all, we now understand that the ending is a crucial part of the story. It makes that all-important final impression on the consumer.

It provides an emotional sense of closure.

It can:

~provide a summary.

~wrap things up.

~bring the reader full circle.

It should:

~be satisfying.

There is nothing worse, in my estimation, than spending several days reading a book or several hours watching a movie only to end up dissatisfied with the ending.

Who wants to pay good money for a theatre ticket or paperback and walk away feeling gypped, cheated, underestimated, or devalued?

So does that mean that the guy should always get the girl…the fortune hunter must always hit oil…the prodigal should always return?

Yes…and…no.

Given the circumstances of the story, it should end in such a way that we see growth in the main character and it makes sense that it ends the way it does.

For instance, he may not find the pot of gold, but he learns that money doesn’t buy happiness and is content with what he has.

He might not get the girl, but finds someone that is better for him in the long run.

Do we need to see that he settles down in Oklahoma, has a half- dozen kids, and retires to play pickleball the rest of his days???  No. In fact, please don’t nail down every detail. Respect the intelligence of your reader by letting them make some conclusions for themselves.

So, this discussion brings us to question whether this really has to be THE END at all…

Perhaps this is just BOOK ONE in a series.

Maybe this movie will supply enough interesting material for a sequel.

Let’s explore the possibilities…NEXT WEEK.