Endings Suck

As humans, we aren’t really wired to cope with endings. For much of human history, food was scarce and predators a very real threat. We had to seize the moment. Eat whatever food was available. Fend off immediate threats.

Think about it. There are no “good” endings.

  • The end of a relationship, even if we’re the one that ended it.
  • The end of a candy bar
  • The end of a book
  • The end of life itself

While ending a book isn’t anywhere near as epic as the end of life itself, a reader has invested many precious hours of their life into what I’ve written.

They deserve a good ending. When they don’t get it, fans riot.

Remember Mass Effect? If you never played it, many of the fans of the game were angry at how the writers ended the trilogy. We’d invested ourselves in three full games, only to be cheated at the end.

I suspect they ended it the way they did to lure players into a MMO that they were planning.

Instead of launching that MMO, they ruined their brand, and many players, myself included, haven’t touched the game since.


As an author, ending the story is as important as beginning it. Maybe more important.

If the writer kills off the characters to get that ending, don’t expect to see me investing my time in another one of their books. I don’t just expect happily-ever-after, I demand it. This is my escape. If I want sad, I have the Economist for that.

I’ve heard the excuses:

  • But it doesn’t give me the impact I want. I need a Romeo and Juliet ending.
  • I have a message, a happy ending doesn’t convey it
  • But some stories just don’t have a happy ending
  • I need a jump-off to my next novel (which is a fast way to make me angry. Give me a whole story, a complete story, and let the next book(s) stand on its own)


My response to these excuses:  Get more creative.  I want better. I want an ending worth the time I invested.

With these thoughts in mind, I started to edit the ending of my current novel. After a couple of hours, I knew the ending sucked. Not Mass Effect sucked, but it was still bad.


My beta reader was right. It needed something more. Something epic. A man has to choose between right and wrong, and his choices dictate not only his life but that of a kingdom. This should grip the reader and make them anxious before resolving it.

I cut over 8,000 words. That’s 10% of my novel. And I started over to write a better ending. To write an ending that would make the reader do a fist pump. To write an ending worthy of the time the reader spent in my world.

Yeah, it’s hard to cut that many of my darlings. Again. But I hope it’ll be worth it in the end.


How about you? Do you prefer a happy ending? Do you demand it? Ever do a massive rewrite and watch a huge chunk of your story disappear behind the Delete key? Ever have to rewrite a whole ending?



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8 thoughts on “Endings Suck

  1. I don’t need a happy ending. I need a satisfying ending. I do think that right now a tragic ending is sort of a short cut to drama and being deep and other things. Which…shortcut. I like hope, especially right now. Rays of sunlight.

    I’m also really willing to accept something tragic or depressing after 1000 words. Go ahead, punch there. But if I’ve read 100K? I’m just going to go curl up in bed and stop reading. 🙁 I want to feel good and like there is more. (And not in a cliffhanger way.)

    Now that I’ve typed all that, yeah, I think size has a lot to do with it. Flash fiction bring on the tragic ending. Short story, totally fine. Novella? Eh, maybe something nice. Epic tome? ……eh….Just tell me the world isn’t the worst shit hole imaginable, please.

    1. You’re on to something with length. A piece of flash fiction, okay, whatever. But the more you invest me in the work, novel length especially, the more I expect the author to come through.

      And yeah, we need a ray of light, some hope, in fiction at least.

      1. It is super popular right now and seen as idealized work to write something that just rips your heart out and leaves you broken. Yes. That’s life and it sucks! Hence fiction!

  2. I like an ending that makes me think, like the theatrical ending of Blade Runner that made us wonder if Deckard could be happy with Rachael, a replicant that may or may not have a limited lifespan. Or the novel Pet Sematary where Rachel (there’s that name again) may or may not be a murderous zombie.

    Failing that, I don’t need happy. Just internally consistent and free of Deus Ex Machinas.

  3. One of my favorite books of all time, Of Mice and Men, has an ending that makes me so sad I cry every time I read it. But the ending was what the book needed. It conveyed a powerful message about society, friendship, and sacrifice. I generally prefer happy endings, but sometimes a book needs to have a sad ending. I don’t think those who write happy endings are necessarily more creative, and I don’t think that sad endings need an excuse. Their plot/genre/audience just led them to a different path. Regardless of emotion provoked, if an ending is satisfying, I consider my time well spent.

  4. I don’t need a happy ending, I need one that fits the world the author built and is plausible. Happy, sad, I don’t care but please just make it realistic.

  5. I need an uplifting ending. I used to think it had to be strictly happy to be that–then I saw Rogue One. I don’t think it’s too spoilerly to say that the ending isn’t a classic happily-ever-after, per se. But it was absolutely uplifting and inspirational to me.

    I’m trying to achieve that sort of uplifting, inspirational ending in my stories (most of which end fairly happily.) With mixed success, I think!

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