Concluding your book well is a challenge. It’s one thing to start off with gusto, another thing to make it through a potentially drooping middle, and still another to finish with flair.
Missing the Mark
One example of a book that had stepped lively and well until the end is Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River. The end of the book really comes when the father dies. Written powerfully, this scene leaves the reader stunned by the rapturous conclusion of the father’s life, as he’s swept into a figuratively peaceful river. But the author has left many important story strings still dangling. So he must tie them up. (The ending would have been downright bad, if he hadn’t completed the tying.)
At this point, the novel drifts off rather than ending solidly. It’s as if Enger realized either: 1) his deadline was upon him, and he had better just rush through and tie up the loose ends; 2) he already had exceeded his word count and needed to just end the thing; 3) he was impatient for the creative process to be over so he ran pell-mell to the last sentence.
Why do I say the ending was unsatisfactory? Because it’s a summary. We’re told what happens rather than being shown. It’s almost a synopsis of the conclusion rather than the real deal.
Another Book That Didn’t Conclude Well
The Help also has a rushed feel to the ending. Skeeter’s mother miraculously recovers from her cancer so Skeeter can move to New York, and Celia Foote, a character the reader has come to care about, is dropped about 3/4 of the way through the novel with no resolution to her concerns. Most of the story’s threads are sewn into the conclusion and lead to a satisfying ending. It was so close to being perfection, but didn’t quite make the mark.
In nonfiction, leaving the reader with a sense of satisfaction is also important. Here’s the effective conclusion to Jon Meacham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House: “The eyes of Jackson’s statue look south, across the Potomac River and toward the pockets of rebellion he put down–keeping watch, never blinking, never tiring. ‘He still lives in the bright pages of history,’ Stephen Douglas said in dedicating the statute. He still lives–and we live in the country he made, children of a distant and commanding father, a faher long dead yet ever with us.” Sounds solid, doesn’t it? Nicely wrapped up, bringing the book full circle and reminding the reader of Meacham’s perspective on why Jackson was so important to our country.
What books satisfied your reading sensibilities, and which ones left you wishing it had ended better? Can you analyze why a book failed at concluding well?
Concluding your book well can be a bigger challenge than a writer ever imagined. Click to tweet.
Writers: Tips on how to end your book well. Click to tweet.
How even highly successful books failed to conclude well. Click to tweet.