Rushed Endings, a Reader’s Pet Peeve

We can all agree Shakespeare was a great writer. His use of wordplay, verse and prose is almost unmatched in the English language. We celebrate his characters and what they stand for and his contribution of new words to our vocabulary. He can just as easily make us laugh as make us cry. But, dare I say it? Some of his play’s endings are rushed and include off stage events that contradict the action on stage.

He gets away with this because the Elizabethan theater audiences were more interested in the action of the play, the middle of the play, then they were in the ending of the play, and let’s face it, he was allowed only so much time for each production.

Shakespeare’s plays are short; in written form they are only about 300 pages long if that. I’ve read longer short stories by Stephen King. So we can forgive Shakespeare for his rushed conclusions, his neatly tied endings, but should we forgive today’s novelists who are allowed more than 300 pages and are under no time constraints? Hell no, as readers, this is one of our many pet peeves.

As readers we expect endings to contain closures and explanations, and not in a paragraph or two.  There is nothing worse than reading a good book, only to find the ending is terrible. I call this the Scooby Doo syndrome; the bad guy is caught, and another character explains the motivation behind the terrible deed in a few short sentences. Or worse yet, a completely new character is introduced, coming out just in time to save the day or wrap things up. It’s one thing to leave the reader thinking “wow, I did not see that ending coming (as most good Gothic novels do), it is quite another to leave the reader wondering, “where the hell did he come from?”

As a writer, it is your job to think your endings through; does it explain why certain things happened, does it allow the reader to feel a certain type of closures? If not, what you have offered the reader is a story without an ending, and that dear writer, is one of our biggest pet peeves.

A short list of good books with terrible endings

The Company of Thieves by Karen Mailand

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Something Red by Douglas Nichols

Finding Poe by Leigh Lane

Is this one of your pet peeves? If so, I’d love to hear from you. What would be on your list?

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

5 thoughts on “Rushed Endings, a Reader’s Pet Peeve”

  1. One of my pet peeves is not necessarily the rushed ending (though that DOES drive me nuts) but when I’m reading a light and fluffy read (which I haven’t done in a bit, but I’m sure I will again) and they don’t give me quite enough epilogue…or they give one and it gives NO additional plot information…

    Wonderful post my dear!

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  2. A wonderful post Sari. Glad you’re back. This is also a pet peeve of mine. I haven’t read Shakespeare for many years. Now might be perfect. My oldest grandson is a HS freshman, currently in the Shakespeare Unit. His mother,my daughter, took summer school Shakespeare Workshops (yes, on purpose! ?!) as her sons put it. I shall share your post with them, and get 3 generations of feedback.
    I can’t think of a book off the top of my head to answer your question. I just know I slam it shut, wanting more, and not in a good way.

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    1. Hey Lady,
      Good to hear from you! Hope all is well. I was introduced to Shakespeare in high school. An English teacher read us Macbeth. It ended up being a huge influence on my life. I think it is great your daughter took your grandson to some workshops. I hope he enjoyed it. Back in May I did a quick series of Shakespeare posts. You may want to share those with him- I wrote my own syllabus so I could do a self taught course. I enjoyed it immensely. I am currently in a Shakespeare graduate class. One of my many goals is to teach a class on Shakespeare, he as so much to teach us about human behavior.

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  3. Enjoying dipping into your back catalogue of posts. I’m in agreement on this. For example, I have a soft spot for fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, but it’s fair to say that a fair proportion of them have rushed endings, almost as if she’d got a little bored by then. Typical of these is Fire and Hemlock, a wonderful tale and a paean to childhood reading, but I’m not the only reader to have had to read the conclusion several times and still been none the wiser (http://wp.me/s2oNj1-hemlock).

    But perhaps it’s not as bad as the protracted epilogue where everything i is dotted and every t crossed and everything is explained pat.

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    1. I hadn’t considered protracted epilogues. But now that you bring it up, yes this is a pet peeve! Did we really need to know what happened to Harry Potter & friends? This one stands out in my mind, It would seem to me a good writer would not have to include an epilogue. A good ending needs no explanation.

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