Why Do Some Authors Insist on Writing a Lousy Ending?

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Good Morning, SEers. John is with you today, and I wish you a happy Friday. As you can see by the headline, today’s post is about that ending. You know the one I mean. The one that treats a reader like they are being shoved off the back of a flatbed truck on a dusty road in the dark. Yeah, I think you get it.

You want an ending that takes into consideration that you worked your eyeballs to the quick, wading through the story hoping for an explanation of all the book’s mysteries. Well, surprise. The author had some other idea, and, in the end, your fondest wish is you never picked up the book in the first place.

So how does this happen, and is there a name for the ending that makes you feel cheated? Well, there just happens to be a name for that kind of ending, and it’s an Unresolved ending. By giving it a name, it almost feels as if, because of categorization, that kind of ending is okay to have. The Master Class defines an unresolved ending as “Sometimes, the end is not really the end. That’s the case with an unresolved ending. This kind of ending leaves the reader with more questions than answers. Ending on a cliffhanger has the potential to be a frustrating experience, but that frustration can also be satisfying if the story calls for it. Unresolved endings are popular choices for books in a series because it leads the reader to the next book.”

The description above talks a little about frustration but does not fully capture the cheated feeling a reader gets when coming to the end of a book and realizing that there are no answers or that maybe the answers are in the next book. Of course, there are endings written that answer every question a reader has, but all the answers don’t make sense. That kind of ending generates a different feeling. Most often, the feeling is that the author simply didn’t know what they were doing. Yes, it’s disappointing but nowhere near as frustrating as having a book end with no resolution to some of the issues the author introduced throughout the book.

It can also be very frustrating to have a book that has quality writing with engaging characters come to such a sudden and indecisive end. If the book does not have quality writing and the story has a lukewarm plot, that would be one thing. Maybe the reader would have already tossed it aside and would never know or care how things turned out.

When the story is excellent, the reader expects a satisfying ending, true to the questions and situations raised, and offers a degree of finality.

Diana Peach will be discussing the ending in more detail in future posts. But for now, I appreciate being able to vent.

How many of you sometimes find yourself shoved off that flatbed truck onto the dusty road in the dark? Tell us about it in the comments section.

107 thoughts on “Why Do Some Authors Insist on Writing a Lousy Ending?

  1. Pingback: Wrapping Up 2022 | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: Why Do Some Authors Insist on Writing a Lousy Ending? – Nelsapy

  3. SOOO true, John. I don’t mind a good book with a twist at the end. But that’s different than an unresolved ending. That’s cheating, because really, I figure the author couldn’t figure out, so they leave their readers hanging. Bad writing, in my mind. If I read a book like that, I won’t be reading any others by that author. I want an ending that leaves me satisfied.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. So with you on this John. Nothing worse than thinking you’re engrossed in a good book, only to be left out in the cold at the end. I ran into one of these earlier this year and posted my review about on Goodreads so maybe the author could take something from it. Those books do not make the cut for my Sunday book reviews. 🙂

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  5. The unresolved ending is certainly maddening, John. I’ve read a few that irritated me to no end. It’s a reminder of just how difficult it can be to craft a well-rounded story. The writer needs to bleed just a little bit more for that great ending.

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  6. While writing my first novel trilogy, it has been very difficult to balance between leaving a reader itching to pick up the next one, and resolving the unresolved plot lines, but after some more writing research, I think I understand the difference between cliffhanger and unresolved endings.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. The most disappointing endings are the ones where the writer obviously ran out of time, plot, or interest. Everything is wrapped up at light speed, leaving the reader to feel let down and cheated. Major story threads are glossed over, other things are left unresolved, and all you can say when it’s done is, “Is that it?” Readers deserve better, and writers who want to be around tomorrow will deliver the goods.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m not a fan of serial fiction because of the cliffhanger endings. They definitely don’t work for me. On the other hand, there are two lengthy series I follow where most all the stories resolve, but occasionally the author will end one on a cliffhanger. Jim Butcher has done this with Harry Dresden and Preston & Child have done it Special Agent Pendergast (their last release wrapped the primary story in the book but set up a cliffhanger ending). I’m okay with those, because, well—we’re talking Butcher and Preston & Child.

    I’m also okay with an occasional open ending. Leave the World Behind is a perfect example of a book a lot of people hated because of the non-ending, but I rated it as my second favorite read the year it was released. I loved it so much, I bought a hardback copy in addition to my Kindle copy. For the most part, however, if I invest time in a book, I want a satisfying conclusion. I feel I’ve earned it.

    Great discussion topic, John!

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  9. Possibly the worst or best book of this kind I have read was the novel “Matter” by Iain M Banks. Mr. Banks was known for his hugely creative and imaginative novels, and it was not unusual for him to play tricks with readers. In fact, it was something on which he prided himself. Mathematical chapters explaining five-dimensional thought just to add a punchline (Excession). Writing in pidgin English (Feersum Endjinn) but in “Matter” he decided that the book did not need an ending. The ending did not “Matter”, you should just be so entertained reading the story.
    So, the main characters die apart from one who mid-sentence (you assume dies) as the book just stops.
    Now this sounds terrible but up to that point the book is hugely entertaining, the writing spectacular as usual and the concepts almost overwhelming…….ah but the ending……

    Liked by 2 people

      • Ah but that is the strange thing. Ian Banks wrote for readers. Iain M banks wrote for himself. They are both the same person and no matter which pseudonym his books sold in millions, and they deserved to. One of the greatest writers of my generation. Accepted as one of the fifty greatest writers of all time. Just read “The Wasp Factory” or “Whit”, “Consider Phlebas” or “The Algebraist” to get a flavor, you will not be disapointed.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. In high school I was a huge Dean Koontz fan. I read Dragon Tears, closed the book angry, and never read another one. I don’t even remember what the book was about, it was over 30 years ago, I just remember feeling cheated of an ending.
    I also remember reading The Giver with my sons, after my daughter read it and loved it. I HATED the ending and we argued about it. She said it opens your imagination. I told her that’s the writer’s job, not mine. We were laughing about it. It was really a difference in what we looked for in a great ending.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think there are different levels of reader tolerance. It doesn’t surprise me to see one reader love an ending and another hate it. As for me I just like to see issues raised by the author in the story concluded by the end. If not I am disappointed. Thanks for your contribution, Michelle,

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I am not a fan of unresolved endings. Even if there is a planned next part, I want the choice of continuing or not. I’ve never been a fan of being forced and this is what it feels like when authors don’t resolve. Some authors leave you with the feeling of wondering what comes next but you don’t mind because the story ended well. I feel that way about your book, Eternal Road. It was a satisfying ending yet we were left with, I wonder but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if you hadn’t written a sequel (and I am awfully glad you did!)

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I detest cliff hanger endings and won’t read the next book in series on principle. To me it’s lazy writing, or else the author has decided to chop a book into smaller pieces to make more money by selling a larger number of books, neither of which do I find acceptable.
    I have one review for my first in series that accuses it of being a cliff hanger which I found startling because like so many authors I always wrap up the major plot line in the ending of each volume, and carry threads forward to subsequent ones. This, to me, is what writing series is all about. Thank goodness it’s only the one reader who felt that way!

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  13. Great venting, John. Lol. It’s a great topic. Unresolved endings are pretty common in series and serials, but even in those cases, the “experts” suggest wrapping up a whole bunch of the minor plot threads to give the reader a satisfying experience. I think a book where the FINAL ending is unresolved or ambiguous, with major questions unanswered about the future/world/character, can be satisfying, but it takes an incredible amount of writing skill (more than I have). Authors need to know exactly what they’re doing. A few famous ones are The Life of Pi, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Fight Club. And thanks for the shout-out!

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  14. Great post, John 🙂 I do not like cliff hangers, unless other questions have been answered that this leads to the next story. As for the ending not making sense, that is disappointing.

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  15. I love series where the same character (one I look forward to seeing in each book) has to face a challenge and meet it by the end of each book. There can be an overarching challenge for the entire series or not, but each book is satisfying when it ends. If there’s an unresolved ending, I’m done with the author. But I’m not fond of downer endings anymore either. I remember a time when they were popular, but I wasn’t fond of them then and I like them even less now.

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  16. Hello John, I too dislike poor endings. I remember reading a book that had been recommended and it gripped me right through. Then in the last few pages, it felt like the author had no idea how to finish and wrapped it up in a few pages. All neat and tidy and at a completely different pace. All the characters lost their authenticity. I felt like I had been dropped. I don’t read any books from that author again. Like Robbie says, if it is a series, each story is a complete one. Interesting post, thank you, lovely. Much love to you and your girls. ❤ Xxx

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  17. A great post, John. I am not a fan of unresolved or cliffhanger endings. I love your description of what it feels like to the reader. And I don’t like being shoved off a flatbed truck on a dusty road in the dark. I read lots of series, but I prefer that each book comes to some sort of conclusion. Thanks for shining a light on this subject! Happy Friday!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. I don’t mind an occasional cliffhanger, if the next book in the series is ready to go. However, I hate endings that leave me wanting with no resolution is in sight. I have read a few authors who lead me to one conclusion and do a crazy twist ending that you would never expect or that didn’t followed the plot clues which they dropped. That drives me crazy.

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  19. I have read endings where the author and the readers sharply disagreed. I’m thinking about a specific trilogy in which the protagonist was killed off. The author wrote an article for the media explaining why. But many fans were completely dissatisfied, because they didn’t feel the author ended the trilogy in a way that made sense. I won’t name the series since I gave a major spoiler.

    Satisfying endings are what cause readers to turn into fans. Though The Lord of the Rings ended in tragedy for some and hope for others, I appreciated the ending because Tolkien took a whole book to end the story well. I greatly prefer an ending that an author has taken time over. A good ending takes time though. So many authors are pressured by demanding publishing schedules to churn out books in a matter of months. So perhaps that is part of the issue of unsatisfying endings. But as a reader, I like some sort of closure and hopefully some foreshadowing that justifies even an unpleasant ending..

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  20. Then there is the “Ran Out of Gas” ending, when the book or story just peters out because the writer was tired of it and wanted it to be done. The book ending that actually enraged me was the story of a young woman who pretends to be a man to fight in the Civil while her husband stays on the farm. Throughout the book, their relationship is suggested to be troubled, which led, in part, to the wife’s enlisting in the Army. Chapers and chapters of suggestion and foreshadowing building up to a big finish when we find out what’s going on with these two people. Then I get to the last page, when nothing is revealed or resolved. The wife returns to the farm, hides in the hayloft from marauding Union soldiers, and shoots the husband in the face when he climbs the ladder.

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  21. I hate when this happens, John! And lately, it seems to happen a lot with traditionally published books, ugh 😑. Stephen King is an author I won’t buy anymore. He used to be an auto-buy writer. His newest book is getting appalling reviews for falling down after the first third to half of the story.

    This is one reason I’m not a fan of series fiction. I much prefer series books that can stand on their own while being part of an overall story. I don’t mind a cliffhanger if it’s because something new has been thrown in after the questions in the current book have been answered and plot threads resolved.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing! 💕🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  22. I’m with Robbie. A series where the story comes to a conclusion but has a follow up with the same characters is fine – there’s that satisfaction at the ending actually ‘ending’. What I really hate is when there’s no indication that the book I’m reading isn’t going to end unless I read all of those in the series (that hasn’t been written yet…). Craig’s books are great because each one deals with a situation that is resolved by the end and is enhanced by the familiarity and development of the characters. Happy venting!

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  23. These types of endings are one reason I don’t care for serial fiction. I agree with Robbie – each book of a series to have a satisfactory ending, and that can be read as a stand-alone novel.

    Then there are those authors who try to go for the “shock factor” and fail miserably.

    Liked by 5 people

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  25. One of my books had early reviews indicating readers were disappointed by the ending. I listened because they rated 4 or 5 stars, so they must have enjoyed most of it. I tried a tweak, and it made ME dissatisfied. I rewrote the whole of that aspect of the story and the book was better for it.

    On a reading level, those sort of endings simply mean I don’t read more of the author’s work. I don’t mind being interested enough to look out for a sequel, but I hate cliff-hangers. I agree with Robert about Mae’s books, and Jan’s Darlina and Luke series can be read as standalones. I know – I accidentality read 3 before 2. 🙂

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  26. Pingback: Why Do Some Author’s Insist on Writing a Lousy Ending? | Legends of Windemere

  27. I agree with Robbie. Stephen King has let me down more than once with his endings. I honestly don’t mind an ambiguous ending if it makes me think. In some ways, I find that more satisfying than being preached to. But I’m not a fan of cliffhangers that are obviously cash-grabs looking for subsequent sales.

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  28. HI John, I do know what you mean about poor endings. I can’t think of a book that has a completely terrible ending that I’ve read but I do sometimes DNF books. I was disappointed by the ending of Stephen King’s IT. A giant spider … come on! Surely he could have done better than that. Such a let down after such a brilliant lead up. I don’t often read series because I don’t like cliff hanger endings like you have mentioned. I prefer series like Mae’s where each story is complete in itself even though it is part of a series.

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