Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's Up with THE END?

By Chester D. Campbell

I just finished typing THE END on the last page of Good, Bad and Murderous, the second book in my Sid Chance mystery series. Frankly, I'm not totally pleased with the ending. I got to thinking about mystery endings and what we expect from them.

One requirement is to tie up all the loose ends. Well, most of them anyway. A reviewer of my first Greg McKenzie book complained that my ending was too pat. Although the reviewer liked the writing, she concluded:

"Every single thread was neatly tied at the conclusion of the book, which felt contrived and implausible."

So now I resolve all the major plot points, but I leave some of the character outcomes for the readers to draw their own conclusions.

In her book How To Write Killer Fiction, Carolyn Wheat says in the Golden Age of mysteries, the author could simply show that the detective knew how everything turned out. She points out how Ellery Queen would gather the suspects in a drawing room and "spend seven or eight closely reasoned pages expounding his theory on who had done what and why."

A feature of the ending for most mysteries these days is the confrontation between the hero (or PI, in my case) and the villain. I provided a double feature for this one. The first turns out a draw, so they meet again.

Carolyn Wheat calls what I refer to as the "wrap-up" chapter The Coda. She talks about Linda Barnes closing her book with a seder, the traditional Jewish ceremonial dinner. I wasn't aware of this, but I've used a dinner with all the good guys in most of my Greg McKenzie books. I also relied on it for the wrap-up of Good, Bad and Murderous.

I've depended on this technique in the past to have the main character say something illuminating, if not profound. I suppose that's what bothers me. I'm not sure what I have written here works. So maybe THE END isn't all that final after all.

How do you like your mysteries to end?


Jaden Terrell said...

Chester, endings are hard. I was really pleased with the one for my second book, but I really struggled with the ending of the first one. I'm sure you got it right--and if you didn't, I know you'll figure it out!

June Shaw said...

Good points, Chester. I like them to end with most things closed up--unless they're part of a series. Then I like a little something as a teaser for next time.

Bill Kirton said...

A lot of fiction is an escape from the shapelessness and uncertainties of everyday life and so it's allowed to have thing neatly tied up in a way they never are in reality. I've come to realise, though, that, when I've tied up the murder and mystery aspect of my plots, I usually add a wee coda to imply that there are still things going on that suggest that nastiness/crime/evil/whatever persists and that there'll be more problems to solve ad infinitum. I don't just mean that there'll be more fictional plots but that the impulses that drive them are part of what humans are.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I don't tie up all the loose ends in my plots but refer to them in the following novel. However, the conclusion has to satisfy the reader, so, as you said, Chester, the major points have to be resolved.

bo parker said...

Chester, I agree with Bill Kirton. Unless every character is dead by the end of the book, there will always be a tomorrow. Give the reader a reason for getting out of bed.

jennymilch said...

Some of my favorite books tie up the main threads, but leave small questions out there, that may or may not be resolved in future books that have some overlapping characters. Harlan Coben's books are examples of this. But in general I think that crime fiction applies order to a disordered world--and order calls for answers. Great topic!

Peg Brantley said...

I've been struggling with the ending I'm writing now. And, when I go back to tug on some of the threads in my rewrite, the ending could change again. Endings are as important as beginnings, and I really want this one to be memorable.

The ending needs to fit the tone of the book, and it absolutely has to wrap up the major issues. Even a book that's part of a series needs to be able to be read as a standalone.

That's not to say that every character issue needs to be resolved . . . people are quirky and maleable and unpredictable. However, the big stuff? Most definitely. But you can still hint at the progress of the folks who have become our friends . . .