Monday, January 7, 2013

Desperately Seeking Great Endings

So fess up. How many times have you finished a book and thrown it against the wall?

There's been a lot of discussion about what makes a five star story. Is it the hook? The characters? The world building? The conflict? The romance? The plot?

I think it's all of the above.

But it doesn't stop there.

Putting on my reader's hat, there's one more element that is absolutely a deal maker or breaker for me. The story has to have a fantastic ending. The kind of ending that makes you close a book and say "Wow! That was amazing." Because for me, all the things that go into "a really good book" only transform it to a great book when they culminate in a knock-your-socks off conclusion.

I want to see the characters thrown right off the cliff--beyond all hope, past the point of no return--and then see the HEA salvaged in a believable, exciting way, especially if it involves a wicked twist or a big revelation (that kind I should have seen coming but didn't, because it was so well crafted).

There is nothing that's more disappointing than to read three-quarters of a great novel only to have the characters lose their way and the plot lack a solid resolution. Or end so abruptly that it leaves the reader thinking "What the heck?" It's like being promised thundering fireworks and getting a quiet fizzle.

Maybe we've created a culture of great beginnings to the detriment of grand finales? Admittedly, there's not a lot of attention paid to crafting story endings. There are myriad contests for the first chapter, the first three chapters, the first 50 pages...but none that I know of that are focused on improving the ending of a book.

But a book is not just a beginning.

I've become a seeker of those rare great endings. Here are a few books that make my list of All Time Great Endings. (Yes, you've heard of some of these titles before. There's a good reason for that.)

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones (Paranormal Romance)
A sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying novel about a private PI and the mysterious dark entity that invades her life. And turns out to be a very flesh-and-blood hunk of a man. Sort of. The revelation about Reyes at the finale of the novel absolutely took my breath away.

Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair (SFR)
One of the blackest moments in SFRdom, hands down, that still ends in a seemingly impossible uplifting HEA.

The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald (SFR)
An edge-of-your-seat, fire and brimstone conclusion that ties ties together several plot threads in a big reveal that made me say "OMG!"

Strangers by Barbara Elsborg (Contemporary Romance/Erotica)
Two of the most tortured characters in bookdom overcome all odds to find happiness in a finale that will absolutely make you believe in the power of love.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi (SF)
The conclusion of a trilogy about the journey of two characters who join an extraordinary corp of superhumans--while many dark secrets about the universe are withheld from the unsuspecting population on Earth. The conclusion of this tale will leave you believing in new beginnings--and that everything in the universe is about to change.

Now I need your help. I'd love to find about a dozen more books to add to my Great Endings list. What books would you recommend? (Any genre is welcome, but SFR is a plus.)



5 comments:

Pauline B Jones said...

Oh, I totally agree, the ending has to live up to the story or yes, book goes sailing against wall (if it can sail, or deleted if it can't).

Darkship Thieves had a smash bang ending, IMHO. Have to think some more.

Laurie A. Green said...

I'll definitely have to add that to my list, Pauline. I've been hearing good things about it. But fantabulous ending, too? I'm there.

Barbara Elsborg said...

I agree, Laurie. The ending has to be 'wow'. Thanks for including mine in there!
The book that has stuck with me isn't scifi but it has an ending that literally made my jaw drop open - Ransom by Jay McInerney. I can't and won't say what it is and I should have seen it coming but I didn't and I STILL think about it.
Plus your story has quite a twist!!!Whatever it's going to be called!!

Heather Massey said...

I really love the ending of Catherine Asaro's ALPHA. It ties up the story and romance but also gets you thinking about the implications after you close the book (or shut off your e-reader, heh!).

Laurie A. Green said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Barbara and Heather.

Barbara, I'll have to add Ransom to my TBA list. I'm excited to read it!

Heather, I have read Alpha and really loved the ending. Catherine Asaro writes SFR with some really intriguing technology and SF elements that make you wonder if this is indeed where we're heading as a society.

Thanks for the recs!