Sunday, August 15, 2010


Wow! Well not quite sure how to follow Liz's fabulous post on settings. If you haven't read it then get thee to the post under this and then come back. I'll be here.

Done? Excellent isn't it? And I hope you took some time to read the scenes that were part of the challenge... no? OK the links are in the comments. We'll wait. Honest.

OK... all here? I'll begin. Well I'll begin by talking about endings.

When you are writing or reading you are always heading towards the end. The best feeling is that you desperately want to know how it ends but you desperately don't want it to finish. The whole of a story can be ruined by an unsatisfying ending. As a writer this the holy grail. How do you get an ending to be satisfying and fitting for the characters themselves.

This is something I have struggled with for awhile. When I was attempting to write for Mills & Boon, I found that I couldn't write the Happily Ever After that I knew they needed. Call me a cynic or a realist but I knew that even if these two people had overcome their obstacles in the book, that there would be other obstacles out there for them afterwards. OK so I know that it is a fantasy we are dealing with, I was even told that by M&B's Editorial Director, but for some reason I couldn't allow myself to overcome my cynical side.

But I am also an idealist and a romantic. How do I marry these things?

During the now infamous Cornwall trip I took recently, Liz and I were discussing endings and how, as a cynical romantic, do I resolve my own internal tension. Well I shall tell you, I am a big fan of the ambiguous ending.

1. (of language) Open to more than one interpretation; having a double meaning.
2. Unclear or inexact because a choice between alternatives has not been made

See I quite like that, the choice has not been made. Oh the choices have been pinpointed through the story. You hope that they will take the correct choice but will they? And what is the correct choice?

Going back to 'Frenchman's Creek' by Daphne du Maurier, you have a classic ambiguous ending. The proper and moral ending would be for her to stay with her husband and family, this is the dutiful ending. But for the romantics there is the ending where she runs away to sea with her lover. The only man she will ever love. The book ends with her on the shore, her lover in a boat. And then it ends. I reckon she probably stays with her husband but by ending it there, the choices and possibilities haven't been completely closed off. She could still hitch up her skirts and jump in that boat.

But for all my cynicism I am not keen on the unhappy ending. That is the romantic in me coming out. In my head I rewrite the ending to 'Casablanca' so she doesn't get on the plane. Oh I know the ending fits and is satisfying but I am romantic enough to want love to conquer all.

So what is your favourite sort of ending? Which books have the most satisfying endings?

Please come back on Thursday when Susanna will be posting!


  1. Interesting post, Biddy, but no, I don't like ambiguous endings. Not at all.

    I want the ending writ in letters LARGE and clear so that I know how the author is concluding the book.

    And I think it should be the author who concludes the book, not the reader - it's not a DIY.

    If the author can bring us so far in the novel, and so far that we care about the characters, the author should take us the whole way.


    Liz x

  2. That is what is good about the world, everyone has a different opinion.

    Biddy x

  3. Thoughtful post!

    I think it depends on the book. A gentle romance may well slide to an end, but an action tale with a sassy heroine may conclude satisfactorily with just one word and a question mark. And that'll be enough.

    Saga-type seem to be better with an ends-tidied-up finish with a reference to future happiness. Others have a smart, sometimes comic, epilogue teasing the reader to expect new adventures.

    In summary, I like a strong indication of the conclusion, but it can leave some questions unanswered, so a 75%/25% split.

  4. I'm with Liz, I want it all tied up neatly, everything clear. I absolutely hate unhappy endings! I even cheat and look at the back of books before buying them, just to make sure. If there is any ambiguity, I would immediately imagine the heroine taking the most romantic option. She definitely has to sail away with that Frenchman in "Frenchman's Creek" and in "The French Lieutenant's Woman" I choose the happiest of the three endings - hated the other two. But yes, great that we're all different!

  5. I want it nice and tidy (not like my house, the tidy part) and I want it HAPPY, VERY HAPPY. That's why I read; I like to live lives where everything comes out nicely.

  6. I'm with Biddy, I'm afraid, in that my inner cynic thinks that the chances of these two being happy forever together is soooo vanishingly tiny, and I'm happy with the Happyish for Now or the ambiguous ending. I particularly hate books where the hero and heroine fight, bitch, argue and snipe throughout the entire story and then suddenly agree that they're in love and this is the big IT. In those cases I'd rather the end ing was left open, than patronise my intelligence by telling me that they're going to be happy for ever.

    Sorry, I'm ranting now. But I do understand that other people have opinions on this. Sniff.

  7. I'm a bit of both - I think it needs the ending that the story itself calls for and I do think it tends to be clear through out the in Frenchman's Creek - I think it is the right ending leaving it open and unanswered but some books need to have things tied up. The kids and i were in dispute over the epilogue to the last harry Potter. I thought it totally unnecessary and they all thought it essential....

    Good topic - I love a bit of discussion :-)


  8. In genre fiction, I prefer to have the clearly concluded happy ending. I read romance for a reason, to pretend all is well and satisfying in the world. Be creative all you want with the concept, story, plot, characters, but if you leave me hanging in the end as a reader, I don't take it in a positive way.

    I would not expect this of literary fiction, though. Anything goes for me there. That's why I need to be in an unbreakable mood to read anything with a lot of drama or serious issues.

    What a great, thought-provoking post!

  9. Oh, this one is so hard! I think, as a reader, I'm nervous of the ambiguous ending - it can be done badly, and that just leaves me anxious.

    BUT there are some ambiguous endings that are done really, really well, and by the time you get there you KNOW that all will be well. You don't need to see it, because is there throughout the book, not just on the last page. I like those. They're triumphal.

    But I do rather like those that have everything sewn up. It's immensely satisfying.

    But at the root of that is my understanding that, for me, a HEA doesn't mean sunsets and roses all their lives. Life can be hard, it will always throw a curve ball. I know that after the book ends, one of my hero and heroine combos have a child who's never quite well, and, separate to that, the hero wonders if he'll ever quite get adventure out of his blood. Another hero and heroine find they can't have kids, and decide to adopt - which, incidentally, is perfect for them.

    But I also know that through the book I've reassured the reader that they have everything they need, in themselves and each other, to make it. The rest is up to them.

    Great post, Biddy!

  10. Oooo I love discussions like this!!

    I think we can all agree that the endings need to be satisfying, which is a satisfying ending for me ;-)

  11. Yes absolutely. And just what satisfying IS is going to have as many answers as there are readers.

    Which I actually find quite exciting!