Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Does An Ending Have to End?

Call me old-fashioned. Traditional even. But I think every book should have an ending. I'm not saying every thread has to be tied up or even that the reader shouldn't be allowed to choose their own resolution. What I am talking about is series books where at the end of a book, the plot is left wide open in an attempt to ensure the reader doesn't stop at that point. To me, there's more marketing than storytelling in that.

Just before Christmas I finished The Keeper of the Grail, the first book in Michael Spradlin's (YA) The Youngest Templar series. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. The writing is excellent, the action is fast, there's plenty of emotion and I already care enough about the hero to ensure that no matter how many books there are, I will be committed through to the end because I have to know what ultimately happens to Tristan.

But I have a problem with the ending of the first book. I won't ruin it for those who have yet to read it (and I think you should) but the end is literally left hanging with Tristan in a life and death situation. There's nothing to be gained from stretching out the 'will he live or die?' suspense at this point because I know he lives. Book 2: Trail of Fate is already published and the series is advertised as a trilogy. I feel a little manipulated. If a book is good enough, and this one is, I don't need the ending to try to encourage me to read on.Now I find I have to wait until I can purchase Book 2 before I feel any sense of story resolution. Where I live it's not as if I can walk into a local book store and buy it immediately, even if the constraints of life and the festive period weren't controlling how I spend my time for the next few weeks.

Perhaps it is a personal issue or something related to how I read. And even how I write. As the author of a series I have very definite views on this issue. And it could be that there is a difference in series endings dependent on reader age groups. My readers are young, generally 8-14. They don't necessarily choose where they begin and end their reading. It is not only decided by what is available to them in their libraries (and that applies to all of us) but also whether the adults around them are willing or able to buy books. So I always ensure each Samurai Kids story is a complete stand alone adventure. While one book follows another, each story is complete in itself.

I am not opposed to cliffhanger endings where the purpose is to encourage the reader to choose what they believe will happen based on the story to date and the characters they have come to know. I am all for reader latitude. But if it is a series book I am not happy about an ending that tries blatantly to dictate to me when and where I stop reading. What do others think?

6 comments:

soupblog said...

I'm with you Sandy! And it's especially mean if the next book is not out for a while.

~Rebecca

Gabrielle Wang said...

I agree. Series Books definitely need an ending. The reader has invested a lot of time with the main character and not to have the adventure finish on a satisfying note is a cheap trick or bad editorial advice.

rose said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
christinebongers said...

Sandy, I couldn't agree more. I adored Patrick Ness's "The knife of never letting go" but couldn't help feeling irritated at the cliff hanger ending - yes, I did go out and immediately buy the second in the series and will no doubt read the third, but the urgency and delight in discovering a new world and a new voice had abated. I found myself reading the second book for plot, but had little desire to promote its virtues as I had with the first. The marketers might find that if they cheat readers out of a satisfying ending, what they gain in sequel sales, they might lose in longer-term customer satisfaction and good will.

cassandrajade said...

I hate endings like that. I always feel cheated. Every book should end with some resolution - even if the main plot is still dangling in the distance something should resolve at the end - and the main character should not be in a life or death situation when the book finishes. It is a cheap ploy to make you read the next book and being contrary as I am I generally refuse to play and put the book down and forget about it.

Lee Ee Leen said...

the worst thing a writer can do!
at least hint at some sort of closure ( for lack of a better word: I know, its an overused word from therapy..)

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