Sunday, July 6, 2014

What makes a perfect ending?

By Karina Bliss

I’ve been doing last edits on a manuscript (BRING HIM HOME, out June) and have been tweaking the last page to try and hit that mystical, magical – elusive! - last chord in the ending.
As a reader I want to close a romance so completely invested in this HEA that I can visualize myself at the Golden Wedding anniversary party raising my glass in a toast while saying sagely, “I always knew these two would make it.”
Here are my thoughts on what makes a perfect ending.
1. It’s specific to these two people and their romance.
2. It resonates with the theme of the book, and ties up all the loose romantic threads in a pretty bow. Her liking for chocolate, his need for independence, how he solves her allergy to his cat.
3. It pulls another rabbit out of the hat in terms of intensity or humor or meaning.
4. It makes me believe in soul mates.
5. I can picture exactly how the rest of their life together will play out.
6. I desperately want to read more but recognize it stopped in exactly the right place.
7. I rush to glom the author.

When I ran a version of this blog on eharlequin a couple of years ago, Super author Mary Sullivan made a good point. She said, “For me, the ending has to feel a bit like the author is performing magic...She makes the conflicts in the novel, both external and internal, so difficult and seemingly insurmountable that I can't believe there could possibly be a happy ending. Then, when the author's imagination kicks in and there is that great believable resolution, it is such a relief and a joy.”

Checking out my keeper books for some examples of great endings I discovered that the punch isn’t always in the last paragraph; sometimes there’s a build of emotion through the last scene to a big moment and then a paragraph or half page of ebb to gently transition the reader to the real world (like movie credits giving you a chance to dry your eyes before the lights go up). Epilogues also give the reader a chance to catch their mental breath.

So what makes a perfect ending for you? Do your keepers end abruptly or float you down to earth? Any great endings you’d like to share?

Here are a few examples from great romances that do hit the high note on the last paragraph.

“He rolled her onto her back and, looking into her eyes said: “Mel, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m going to make you so happy, you won’t be able to stand it. You’re going to wake up singing every morning.”
I already do, Jack.”
Virgin River, the first in the phenomenally successful series by Robyn Carr.
“First I have to get one thing straight.” His groan didn’t deter her in the slightest. “Understand that I am madly, crazily in love with you, Jared. If you marry me, that’s it for life. You’ll be as tied down as it’s possible for a man to be.”
He hauled her into his arms with a suddenness that robbed her of her breath. Holly felt the wild beating of his heart against her breast. Wild. That about summed Jared up.
“So tie me down,” he breathed against her mouth.
Whose Lie Is It Anyway by Abby Gaines
She came closer. “Aren’t you going to say something she said. “Ask me why I’m here? Tell me to go away?”
“No,” he said.
“Why not?”
“Because this is where you belong.” And he reached for her, in the bright summer sunshine, and she came into his arms, into his heart, and into his life. Forever.
Cold As Ice – Anne Stuart
Tilda stopped struggling. “Are you proposing?’
“Yes,” Davy said. “I love you. Marry me, Matilda, and make me the most confused man on earth.”
She blinked at him, her lips parted, and for one horrible moment, he thought she was going to say no.
Then she smiled that crooked smile, and he breathed again.
“Ravish me, Ralph,” Tilda said.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Davy said, and did.
Faking It by Jennifer Crusie

He felt himself vanishing, fading away like the mist that drifted over the gargoyles and monsters carved on his father’s house.
And then something touched him: a soft touch on his hand and then on his face. He turned toward her, trying to swallow down the emotion. She came into his arms. He couldn’t speak; he knelt on the ground and held her against him.
“Sheridan.” Her lips were trembling, her voice a feeble breath next to his ear. “My terrible lonely wolf.” Her arms tightened, and he could feel the wetness on her face against his throat.
He stroked her hair with shaking hands.
“I’m here,” she said into his shoulder. “I’m here and I love you. I love you no matter what.”
Seize The Fire by Laura Kinsale.

Commenters go into the draw for my last release, STAND-IN WIFE.


Mary Preston said...

A perfect ending should make me sigh. I don't always need a typical HEA, so long as there is a satisfactory conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I think the best change in romance writing in recent years has been the way endings have evolved. People have begun to recognise that a picket fence with triplets and another on the way is not the ending that fits every book (especially not romantic suspense, where I find it too!). Of course, it is the perfect ending for some books, but in the past it seemed to be the only option. I don’t want the hero and heroine to have fourteen babies at the end of the book if there’s been no indication of a desire for that in the pages before.

The end of Sarah Mayberry’s The Best Laid Plans is a great one that comes to mind. It leaves you feeling positive but without cavities!

It is important to me that the final pages show a resolution of the main conflict in the story. There’re a heap of books that I loved up until the final pages, only to have the whole story ruined by the ending. One YA book I read recently I loved. One of my best reads in recent times.
Then I reached the epilogue, which was a very cheesy look twenty years into the future. It just about ruined the book!

Karina Bliss said...

Marybelle, the sigh factor. A sure sign of a keeper.

Karina Bliss said...

Sonya, Sarah writes great books, I'm a real fan of hers. I just finished ALL THEY NEED, her Nov Super and read it within 24 hours. As a reader as long as I beleive 'these two and no other' the ending works for me.
I agree a story can be ruined by the wrong ending. The movie, The Piano, should have had a freeze frame ending in my opinion. The heroine chosing to drown changing her mind and kicking to the surface where she breaks free of the water said it all. Except then we got a whole montage of shots of her pretty cottage, her new iron finger as she played the piano, the hero in a clean shirt. It diminished the movie for me.

Anonymous said...

I remember a university tutor telling us you should write your story and then take the last paragraph off and you’ll have the perfect final sentence. It’s surprisingly effective and seems to work for movies too! The Return of the King was one that was so hard to end because there were so many plotlines to pull together.

Toni Kenyon said...

The perfect ending should make me believe that love does conquer all.

The idea that you should finish your story and then remove the last paragraph, intrigues me.

Don't put me in the draw, Karina, I've just finished STAND-IN WIFE and you wrote the perfect ending!

Laney4 said...

Years ago when I was reading a book I perceived as "not enjoyable", I would keep reading it anyway, thinking, "I paid good money for this book, so I'm gonna finish it!"

Nowadays when I don't like how a story is doing/going, I fast-forward to the last chapter or less to read the HEA ending before moving on to the next book. Sometimes the endings surprise me; usually they don't.

Now that you have provided a lovely list of HEAs, I'm wondering if there is enjoyment in just reading endings, LOL! Think of all the time that could be saved if people just read the last chapter or two!

Okay ... seriously ... I realize there would be no point in writing the whole book then, but that's how my mind works first thing in the morning.

Don't worry. I'm going to continue reading, page by page, book by book, as I enjoy seeing storylines progress ... I want to LOL and, yes, even cry on occasion ... and I so very much enjoy sharing in a good love story.

Unknown said...

A perfect ending in a book is the one that gives you that feel good feeling inside, one that say I want to read you again and then that book goes on your keeper shelf.

jcp said...

I like an epilogue and not to leave details hanging.

Anonymous said...

Karina, I copied this as a reference to keep for later. Great post! This quality in particular makes me appreciate a book's ending: "I desperately want to read more but recognize it stopped in exactly the right place." Yes! I know it's not a book, but that reminds me of the ending to "An Affair to Remember." And endings like that do take a lot of hard work! Good luck with yours! :-)

Karina Bliss said...

Sonya, like the tutor's advice. I'm going to go through my books and try it! And it sounds a lot easier than advice for the novel's beginning. (Write four chapters, delete the first three because most likely it's all backstory).
The Return of the King's ending did drag on but I can't think with so many subplots to tie up they could done anything else. An interesting mental exercise though.

Karina Bliss said...

Hey Toni, I rewrote Stand-In Wife's ending several times. Had the bones but not the grace notes. Adding the dog helped. :)

Karina Bliss said...

Laney4, I find it very difficult not to sneak to the ending sometimes and check things turned out okay. Reading endings for this blog I did discover though that some of the great ones don't stand alone. You need all the texture of the novel preceding them to truly appreciate how good they are.

Karina Bliss said...

Virginia, I'm trying to remember if I've every finished a book and immediately restarted it because I can't bear to leave the world. I'm sure one of Diana Gabaldon's got me that way. And Yann Martel's Life of Pi - the ending completely changes your perception of everything that went before.

Karina Bliss said...

Jcp, I don't mind things hanging as long as I'm sure in my own mind that the HEA is inevitable. On the other hand, if some of the subplot issues have been left unresolved...that drives me crazy!

Karina Bliss said...

Kathy, I haven't seen An Affair to Remember, I'll check it out. I love finishing a story wanting more but knowing more would be bad for me (like overindulging with chocolate).

Rogenna Brewer said...

The perfect ending for me is when I've read that last page and still don't want it to end :0

Cathryn Parry said...

Karina, I love these endings!You're making me want to curl up next to my keeper shelf and read (and re-read.) :)

Mary Brady said...

Karina, Love the post. Everybody has already said everything about endings, but after reading your post I find myself wanting to go to the bookstore, buy fifty books and just sit read the last page until I've read them all. I loved the ones you picked they're great even standing alone.

Snookie said...

I don't think there really are perfect endings, but there are excellent endings. To me a perfect ending would really mean just that "THE END". I like endings that tie up the loose ends and subplots that need to be wrapped up(if they haven't been tied up during the story or are part of a series) and leave me knowing there's an HEA for the couple. They don't have to get married or even get engaged but just knowing that that the two belong together for the present (in YA books) and for the long term for books with older characters. Sometimes it's nice to get an epilog of how the couple are doing down the road even if the ending is excellent, but an excellent ending really doesn't need one :)

Karina I've liked the endings in all of your books and I've read most of them.

Karina Bliss said...

Rogenna, it's a bittersweet moment isn't it? Finishing a great book.

Karina Bliss said...

Cathryn, I spent an hour I didn't have reading endings on my keeper shelf. I put it down to research. What's that saying, the beginning makes a reader buy your book; the end makes a reader buy your next book.

Karina Bliss said...

Mary, you know what surprised me? How many of my keepers didn't have great least they did but they didn't stand in isolation like the examples I picked. They were great because they built and resonated with the whole book.

Karina Bliss said...

Snookie, I'll settle for an excellent ending. In fact sometimes excellent endings are more satisfying because they aren't perfect. You still get the sense that the couple have work to do but as long as I finish a book with the conviction that they're capable of overcoming those challenges together I'm happy with loose ends. I guess because life is like that.

Beth Andrews said...

What a timely post for me, Karina! I just finished some edits on my June Super as well *g* I reworked the ending during revisions because it just didn't ring true for the characters so hopefully I've made it right :-)

Loved the examples you shared. I haven't read all of the stories but I've written the titles down for my next trip to the bookstore!

Kaelee said...

I think you have summed up what makes a great ending very well.

I like the ending to be believable with the implied assurance that the couple will still be together despite some differences. I like to think that they will weather whatever life throws at them.

Karina Bliss said...

Beth, good to hear you're working too. Easy to tell when something's not quite right isn't it? There's a niggle when you read it. I usually find it's because I need another layer or two...another echo of what their interactions have been through the book. Glad you worked it out. Hopefully I have too. Guess we'll find out in June.

Karina Bliss said...

Kaelee, that's what I like about Supers, you can have faith that the couple have dealt with real-life issues and will prevail.

alinaduffer said...

Hi Karina! I think the perfect ending should make you sigh or laugh or even cry and it should always leaving you hoping that the characters make it to their 75th anniversary and live happily ever after.

Thanks for posting those wonderful endings. I now want to read Whose Lie Is It Anyway by Abby Gaines. Just reading the ending makes me want to see how they got to that wonderful place.

Have a wonderful night!

Karina Bliss said...

Alina, that was Abby's first book. Needless to say the woman has talent. She's written more than a dozen since then so you'll be able to feed the addiction.

linda s said...

I like all the threads pulled into a neat bow. I have noticed that not all stories are resolved into marriages... a sign of the times. But they make a commitment to each other that I can believe.

Bri said...

I love the happy sigh ending, the one that you know is just right for the couple and the story. And I dont need wedding bells in the story to necessarily believe that is the path of the couple. In some cases the promise that the new relationship will continue is enough, especially when the book has taken place over a short amount of chronological time.

While I have nothing against epilogues, I like when the book wraps up well without the need for one. When all the subplots and other stuff are wrapped up within the 'main' story (for lack of a better term). The ending of Virgin River DID make me go out and get the next book because I was not ready to leave that world yet.

JV said...

What constitutes a perfect ending varies from story to story depending upon the characters' personalities and circumstances. The important things, for me, are:
It must be a Happily Ever After ending.
It must be believable. This is where some stories go wrong, with an ending so abrupt and about-face that it cannot be trusted.
All loose ends must be tied up. (Exception: series stories where some of the issues may be resolved in a later story. Still, all the issues with this particular couple must be resolved.)

JV said...

I should have also said that for it to be a perfect ending, I have to want more, even though I feel satisfied with the ending. I have to be in love with the hero myself by the end and feel that the heroine deserves him.

Colleen C. said...

My keepers leave me with a smile... having that happy feeling that everything came together well for the characters and they have their HEA... I do not mind series books... I just do not like having to get a bunch of books to solve a mystery that connects the books...

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