Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Most Important Thing

Have you ever seen the movie Secret Window with Johnny Depp? I admit, I'm a huge fan of Mr. Depp, and I think he'd very good in this. And, he gets one of my favorite lines in the movie. (No, slash that, I think he has all of my favorite lines of the movie.)

See, Johnny Depp plays Mort Rainey, an author. I'm going to skip over all the parts related to plot so as not to spoil anything, but at one point Mort explains his views on endings: "You know, the only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story, the ending. And this one... is very good. This one's perfect." (If you want to hear Mr. Depp deliver the lines -- and I think everyone should, click here to watch the last scene. If you wish to avoid references to things that occur in the movie, watch only that which occurs in the time slow 1:25 - 1:45.)

I concur with Mr. Mort Rainey. The end, in my mind, is the most important part.

Now, I'm not going to claim that beginnings are not important. (That would be silly. That's when you establish everything and hook your reader.) And I am not about to claim that middles are allowed to be rubbish or that no one cares about them. (That would foolish. Middles are were everyone spends most of their time. They are arguably the largest portion of the book. They have to be good. If they weren't worth reading, then no one would get to the ending.) But I do think that what you really need is, what you absolutely cannot get by without is a very good ending.

Do you know why?

Because in the beginning, they can put the book down. They don't have to get started at all, if they don't want to. And while that might be unfortunate for you, as a writer, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and not everyone was going to like you anyway.

In the middle, they can not like you. They can put the book down, take breaks, or simply give it up. None of those things are particularly good for you, the author, but they are not the worst things. After all, even if the middle, one is not necessarily committed. Promises have not always been made.

But the ending. If they've made the ending, they deserve to having something good. You owe it to the reader. You promised them that you weren't going to blow it. And if you do, they'll upset, and deservedly so.

See, I view reading as a partnership. The writer, by presenting this book to you, has made assurances of its worth and general goodness. The reader, by reading, has made assurances of interest and openness to the events of the story. If you give them a bad ending, you're not holding up your end. You gave them a good most of the story (good work, you), and they got invested, just the way you'd always hoped. Now if the ending is bad, they're going to want to throw the book against the wall. And, even worse for you, they might never read anything you write ever again. And, even worse, they might convince others not to read your work either.


Because you reneged on the deal. Bad. The reader expected a satisfying ending, and they deserve it. And you should give it to them.

Now, I'm not saying that it has to be a happy ending, though we know I love those. I am, however, saying that it should wrap things up, at least most things. If it leaves all sorts of things hanging out there, that's not finishing, that's stopping. That's not the same.

Someone should make it out alive. (Yes, we've heard me say this before.) Why do I say that? Because if every single person the reader has been following throughout the book dies, then you're gonna have to take a few pages to explain to the reader why anything you just wrote matters. And, trust me, if no one is alive to be impacted, that's a hard things to do.

The ending should be foreseeable and physically possible. I do not mean that you have to make it obvious -- that would be much less fun. However, the reader should have a snowball's shot in hell of understanding how it all happened. For example, if it's a murder mystery, don't make the doer some person the reader's never heard of and the weapon and motive should have been something the reader could recognize. Otherwise, why'd you bother bringing them along for the ride?

The ending is what I read books for. While I care about how they get there (in the stories I read, that is often the part that changes), I expect a good resolution. Otherwise, I might just throw your book against the wall.

Tell me, how do you feel about endings? What do you find to be the most important part? Do you share my fandom of Johnny Depp?


  1. I do know a bad ending spoils my whole feeling about a book or a film.

  2. Johnny Depp is my favorite. Someone else just mentioned him in a post today. I hate it when endings disappoint. I usually won't read another book by the same author even if the rest of the story was great.

  3. Hedgehog -- The same. It's hard for me remember the good parts of a book if the ending was so bad.

    Susan -- I have a feeling that for me, I just come to remember that the book was displeasing for me, and so I will not remember the good things the author did, so I too am less likely to pick up their other books. Yay for Johnny Depp. :-)

  4. I like endings to provide closure. Everything doesn't have to be tied up in a neat little bow, but it has to leave me feeling satisfied.

  5. Great post!
    I'm a Johnny Depp fan, but never saw Secret Window because my sister told me it was the worst movie she'd ever seen. I may need to overlook her advice and add this to my netflix list.

  6. LnL -- True, the neat bow is not necessary, but closure is.

    Megan -- If Secret Window is the worst movie she's ever seen, then she must be watching the most flipping awesome movies in the world.