A Good End?

For the past week I’ve been working on the final chapter of my novel.  Following the advice of bestselling author and expert creative writing tutor Sharon Kendrick I wrote the end months ago.  But when I read it again it wasn’t right.  My character had hijacked the love story part of the book since then and it didn’t work anymore.   And that got me thinking about what makes a good ending. 

It’s pretty clear that readers want the hero and heroine to be together at the end of a romance novel.  Publishers, more cryptically, say they’re looking for an ‘emotionally satisfying ending’. 

When I started looking into it a bit more I found this pretty illuminating quote from one of my writing heroines, Jennifer Crusie: “I think romance novels, like any genre stories, must provide a reader with catharsis at the end, and that catharsis is usually found in a ‘just’ ending; that is, characters get what they deserve. The bad guy gets punished, and the good guys get the happiness they’ve been striving for because they’ve suffered and grown and struggled.”   Jennifer knows what she’s talking about.  Not only has she written half a dozen best sellers but she teaches creative writing at Ohio State University.

By Jennifer’s definition to have a happy ending both characters need to grow during the book.   If one of them doesn’t then you can’t have a happy ending.  I think Gone With the Wind would be a classic example of that.  Scarlett was, in my opinion, a spoilt brat from start to finish.  I’d have felt a bit let down if Rhett had stayed with her at the end. 

The other twist on the happy ever after is the ‘duty’ or ‘noble sacrifice’ ending as in Roman Holiday.  It’s one of my all-time favourite films and it makes me cry every time when Princess Audrey choses her duty to her country over her love for Gregory Peck.  Another film classic would be Casablanca.  If Ingrid Bergman hadn’t got on the plane would that have made a better movie?  I don’t think so.  Somehow it’s enough to know ‘they’ll always have Paris’.

But there are romances where the ending seems anything but ‘just’.  For anyone who hasn’t seen or read One Day by David Nicholls I suggest you stop reading now because there will be spoilers.  The book charts the friendship of Emma and Dexter who meet on the night of their graduation in 1988.  Following their lives for just one day each year we see how that friendship progresses and eventually turns to love.

I saw the film before I read the book.  About three quarters of the way through when Dexter and Emma were happily married I thought ‘this isn’t going to end well’.  I was absolutely right.  Five minutes later Emma gets knocked off her bike and dies.  Yes, dies!  How could this heroine, who we’d come to love, die?  It just wasn’t right.  And no amount of quality father/daughter time four years later was going to make me feel any different. 

I felt cheated.  I’d gone to see a romance.  I didn’t want to come out crying.  And Emma deserved her happy ending.  She was good.  Dexter was a bit of an idiot but she loved him and together they’d suffered and grown.  They should have been together.   

However (and there’s more spoilers coming up) even if the hero and heroine don’t both live to see the final scene the ending can still have that required emotional quality.  Me Before You by JoJo Moyes has an incredibly moving ending.  I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much at the end of a book.  It was heart breaking but I understood.

It seems to me that books with endings that aren’t emotionally satisfying are seen as more serious.  They take the book out of the romance genre and lift it to something more literary.  That’s the author’s choice but it’s not a route I want to go down.

I want an ending that makes my characters and my readers happy.  My characters have definitely suffered (by the way does anyone else find themselves apologising to their characters for what they’re going through or is that just me?) and I’m pretty sure they’ve grown.  They deserve a bit of happiness.   And my readers have stuck with us.  I want them to close the book feeling happy too. 

So now I know what I’m aiming for.  Only time will tell if I can actually pull it off!

I’d love to hear what you think.  What do you want from the end of a romance novel?  What are your all-time favourite endings?  And what makes them so good?

Alex

x

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8 thoughts on “A Good End?

  1. Hi Alex

    Great post and can I just say how much I agree with you about ‘One Day’. I started to read the book but hadn’t got to the Emma and Dexter get together when I saw the film. I was therefore quite shocked by the death. The film was ok but I’d not watch it again. However, I really disliked the book because I hated (sorry, strong word!) the Dexter character. There was nothing endearing about him and I actually didn’t want Emma to end up with a self-obsessed loser like him. I knew Emma and Dexter were going to get together at some point; it was a romance, after all. But I really, really didn’t want them too.

    I’m reading a book at the moment – a romcom – and I know from chapter 1 how the book is going to end (i.e. who will be the love interest) but it doesn’t bother me knowing that because what I’m interested in is the journey that gets them there and all the bumps in the road they will inevitably need to traverse before the course of true love finally unites them. I think romcom is one of the genres where knowing how it ends can work because you share the journey of the characters and that’s the essence of the book. If we were reading a whodunnit and we found out immediately that it was Trevor the Taxidermist, it probably wouldn’t work quite so well!

    My perfect ending is that the hero and heroine do get together and I have a satisfying “ahhhh” warm and fuzzy moment. I either have a big smile on my face or I just feel relaxed. Mind you, I do sometimes find the ending a little rushed i.e. they have a kiss/tumble into bed/declare their undying love on the last page and then that’s it. I feel slightly cheated then. I do enjoy a novel that shows us a little down the line. I recently read a book called ‘The Beach Cafe’ by Lucy Diamond (I’ll post a review on this one). From early on, I knew who the protagonist’s love interest would be but I wanted to see how it would happen. The ending wasn’t rushed. We’re treated to a fabulous 12-page epilogue of three months later which, for me, tied up the “happy ever after” for several of the characters rather than just Evie and her man. Immensely satisfying.

    Julie
    x

  2. Hi,
    I totally agree about One Day! I have to say I wasn’t enjoying the film and then when the heroine was killed off I felt so cheated! It didn’t seem the right choice of ending to me.
    Like Julie I don’t mind knowing the ending – i.e. that the hero and heroine will get together – the journey is what intrigues me and how the conflicts are resolved.
    I think that Me Before You had a very apt ending – it would’ve been too far fetched if Will had changed his mind about wanting to die. JoJo Moyes still created a romance between the characters but stayed true to the characters too, if that makes sense!

    Helen.

  3. Hi Alex

    Great post! Like Julie and Helen, I agree about One Day and I also think you’ve got it spot on about these types of ending somehow making the book more literary. It’s almost as if by having an unhappy ending the book is somehow more worthy and that readers who desire a happy ending are simple souls! Well, that about sums me up, and I’m not afraid to admit that I’m only really satisfied by a happy ending.

    I think that the ending does need to tie everything together and the need for it to be ‘just’ resonates with me. There is also nothing more I hate than a book or film that doesn’t really have an ending and leaves the viewer/reader hanging. I know some people like to make up their own mind/imagine what might happen to the characters if the last lines leave that open – but I want the writer to finish the story!

    Good luck with finding your own happy ending and, hopefully, in its own way it will be just the beginning.

    Jo x

    • Hello!
      Thanks for all the comments. It’s been great to hear your opinions on this. Writing the post and hearing from all of you has really clarified what I need to do with this final chapter. So thank you for your input and support. It’s very much appreciated!
      Alex
      x

  4. Hi Alex,
    I don’t mind if a book doesn’t have a completely happy ending as long as it’s a hopeful ending – I quite like if I can picture the characters continuing with their story.
    I really liked One Day, but it did take me a while to get over what happened to Emma!
    Good luck with your book – I’m hoping to post my NWS submission next week!
    Elle 🙂

    • Hi Elle
      Thanks for your post. As Jo has said it’s lovely to hear from you. I’m impressed that your NWS submission is almost ready to go. I’ve got weeks of editing to do after I’ve finished this final chapter. Best of luck with it and please do pop back and let us know how it goes.
      Alex
      x

  5. Hi Alex

    Great post…

    Have to admit I LOVED One Day, I adore David Nicholls’ voice, his dialogue was sharp and funny and I thought the premise was quite brilliant but never gimmicky… And yes Dexter was a bit of a tosser but he was a classic example of a character with some major flaws who grows and changes after suffering the slings and arrows of his own stupidity (and unfortunately he was just the sort of guy I was attracted to at college!). I was also gutted when Emma got trounced by that bloody lorry… but you see, this is what happens when you let men write romance novels, they go and do something ridiculous like killing off their heroine!! (Look no further than all of Nicholas Sparks novels for more evidence)… then again, her death didn’t make me dislike the book, I just saw it as the end of ‘their story’ and the beginning of ‘his story’. Emma still got her happy ever after (it just didn’t last as long as it should have)… The film now is another story (don’t even get me started on Jim Sturgess’s ridiculous hair-dos and Anne Hathaway’s wobbly Yorkshire accent), but I don’t think anyone should judge a book by its movie cover!

    I’d also have to disagree with you about Scarlett in GWTW .. Yes she was petulant and misguided and selfish thru a lot of it, but she was a product of her environment (a very believable one) and for all her flaws she had a core of strength and determination that made her so much more vibrant and interesting than Melanie (the non-bitch one). And as Rhett was such a cynical bastard I loved their sparring matches. The tragedy for me at the end of the story and the reason they can’t be together wasn’t actually Scarlet’s fault it was Rhett’s, because in the end he didn’t want the independent, indomitable woman he had married but to ‘re-capture’ the charm and gentility of the Old South which was long dead. Personally I think he had a mid-life crisis and panicked, now Scarlet was no longer hooked on that plonker Ashley she would want a ‘real’ relationship with him, she would expect not to be treated like an exotic, amusing pet anymore but a woman and he couldn’t handle that… Not saying she didn’t still have her faults, she did, but he had a lot too!

    All of that said, my all-time favourite endings (yes, I’m finally going to answer your question – I bet you were starting to wonder!) are ones were the couple DO get together, but in a believable way… In other words, like Ms Crusie says (god, I LOVE her books) they’ve earned it, they’ve gone thru hell and high water to get there and they’ve learned enough about each other and changed enough themselves to have a good chance of making a go of it… But I also want to feel that this is just the start of something wonderful, that everything they’ve suffered together has given them the tools to negotiate the inevitable bumps in the road ahead. A great example of that perfect HEA for me are Diana Gabaldon’s first Outlander book: Cross Stitch (in the UK) and JD Robb’s first Eve Dallas book Naked in Death… Obviously they’re the start of on-going series in which you see the couple’s relationship change and develop further, but they both work brilliantly as stand-alones too.

    OK, need to stop waffling and get on with my own book…. Best of luck to everyone here who is entering this year’s NWS, can’t speak highly enough of it having gone thru it twice myself before getting published.

    Heidi

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