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?