So why do we read fiction? What compels us to pick up a book and read it, to drag cash out of our thinning wallet so that we can smell the newly-bought pages as we shove our noses in them?
Experience. That’s why. We want to experience life from the perspective of a different person in a different life going through different things. We want to roll through a roller-coaster plot line, meet-and-greet with the oddest people, and find our serves clenching our teeth when the love interest asks the main character out. But beyond that, we want a happy ending.
That’s why realistic fiction is often far from real-life. For most people, there have never been any exciting events that began with a slow ascent and swooped into a kamikaze dive of obstacles, but managing to pull up at the last moment and land on the runway. On a Hawaiian beach.
And when the story doesn’t end like that? We’re out for blood. We want that perfect ending, a mixture of happiness and compromise. She gets the guy, gets the job, and makes up with her best friend. All in time for her high school reunion. Yippee.
So it has to be happy, but what else goes into a satisfying ending? Questions must be resolves. The shady man that walked around at midnight? A police officer undercover. The two men that were very good friends? Yeah, they’re engaged. The main character’s mother? Lives a happy life after the ending of the book. You cannot have the readers wondering about character XYZ after the book is finished, because then we’ll get impatient. Like after the end of the first hobbit movie, “that’s it?” will provoke tons of outrage. “Another trilogy? Nothing’s happened!! What’s the point of this book if nothing changes from start to end. This shouldn’t be a FREAKING U-TURN!!!” Rage, rage, rage! I’ve wasted time, this could have been condensed into 15 MINUTES!! ARGGGHHH!!! So make sure that the plot rises and falls, comes to a complete close, before putting your pen down.
So, all the questions are answered, the plot is resolved, the characters are happy, but it’s just so… fake! Yeah, we all have had eye rolling moments of “yeah, right!”. So she got the guy, scored the dream job, won the lottery, was cured of cancer, and inherited money from her step-mom? That sounds JUST A LITTLE contrived. Just a tiny bit. While we do want more excitement than real-life, some things may be a little bit too forced. Especially if something originally presented as being fatal or irreversible is later cured or reversed. Readers don’t want to feel cheated when they finish a book. Books prone to this are books about cancer (she was magically cured of her terminal illness), racism (the whole town/country understood the error of its ways), government FBI thrillers (“so what if he went rogue, he saved us! No legal consequences whatsoever!”), and more. While we authors need to induce some fortunate coincidences for our plots and resolutions to work, too many will leave the reader mildly pissed off.
Yeah, the ending closes a book. It’s the last thing the reader will read before putting it onto a shelf. It’s what will cause the author to sigh out of either contentment or annoyance. Pay attention to it, and give it the time and effort it deserves! We all love the feeling of a good book once we finish the last page. Don’t ruin that for the readers!