By Robin D. Owens
Endings are extremely important. You want the reader to be satisfied, more, to remember that you gave them a good finish and look forward to your next book.
Here are some problems I, as a reader and writer, find in endings:
I had a favorite author (male writing under a female pseudonym) whose work I loved . . . until the end. Many of his/her books felt like s/he just didn't care past a certain point, or had left this particular project until late (the romances) and had to rush. Deeply unsatisfying.
So rushing pace can be a problem.
Or abrupt endings. I have a writer friend who likes to read endings with an emotional wrap-up, even as she tends to write until the action is done and stops.
Or a slow and lingering pace. The hero and heroine have solved the crime, saved the world, fallen in love, and you spend two more extraneous chapters describing how happy they and their friends and everyone else is.
Point of view. I have had books with only hero's and heroine's point of view . . . then, rather like a long camera pan in a film, the point of view changes to omniscient. This bugs me.
For example, I read a treasure hunt romance about a lost pearl (object has been changed). The hero and heroine kiss and go off to bed. The last line went something like: And in the moonlight the pearl softly gleamed. (What?)
Cliffhangers and Setting Up a Series
I would say that unless your next book will is out or will be published within, say, a week, don't do this. It irritates folks that the protagonist remains in danger, or hasn't solved the crime, or the love interest has died/left/been dumped.
A critique buddy recently read a mystery-thriller that began a series that she hadn't realized was the first book in a series. She thought the (continuing characters) cops were stupid because they didn't investigate well and didn't solve the original crime at the end, and the main villain escaped. Though the romance in the book wrapped up well, the mystery was left hanging. She was quite annoyed and would not go on to the next book. I heard about this and we dissected the technique for about two hours.
So watch your set-ups and pay-offs. If you set up an action, especially a main problem in your book, you will have less readers upset with you if you solve that problem instead of leaving it dangling.
For myself, I tend to leave a few threads unresolved in my series, this is usually acceptable for readers and hopefully tantalizes them, and it gives me a longer arc to work on a particular story.
The romance wraps up, the character growth wraps up, but there is a continuing story thread that is not resolved.
For instance: Once a hero was disinherited and this caused major problems for his whole family over the course of 3-4 books. Lately I've introduced a violent and evil political group (heh, heh) and have whittled down some of its members from book to book, but have left one last person unknown . . . to be caught and punished in the next book. This will wrap up that particular thread that's run through three books.
A final note. What I think is most important is the emotional punch of an ending. If you make sure you get the emotion right, some lack of technique can be forgiven. Like the first line or paragraph of your story should hook the reader, so should the last paragraphs or lines evoke enough emotion to linger in your readers' memories.
I've written twenty-five books, four novellas and two short stories, and I've always worked hard at the endings – to tie things up right, leave a good punctuating emotional note that would echo after the reader finished. But I think I've done exceptional endings twice.
My most recently published book, Ghost Killer, has one of the best endings I've done. (And thus why I thought of this topic). That ending is second after HeartMate, published book #1 (which might have helped get me published in the first place).
And here's a fact about Ghost Killer's ending. It came strictly through the historical research as I was writing the book. I knew in general what I wanted, but the research supplied another couple of layers to the moment.
So look inside yourself for your ending, see if it can echo your beginning, perhaps leave a hint of the next story. And be open for the muse or fate or research or an odd comment you might hear to add that emotional note you need to make a reader smile and sigh and close the book, wishing it wasn't over.
May all your writing dreams come true,