A Fitting Ending or a Cliché Disappointment?

Posted June 18, 2015 by Debby in Uncategorized

One of my goals for 2015 was to finish up more series – and I’ve been doing extremely well, if I do say so myself. So far this year, I’ve finished up 8 series (ahead on my series-per-month goal), and I’ve been catching up on some others that I already started. Basically, things are looking up. However, with reading so many conclusions, a question has been lingering in my mind.

Are series that reach a “natural end”… disappointing?

Here’s how the story goes: you have, for example, a trilogy. You’ve been heavily invested in it for two books, multiple years, and for the sake of argument let’s say it’s one of your favorite series. Your level of anticipation for the final book didn’t reach staggering heights for nothing. You love the characters, the world, and there have (probably) been some heartbreaking/shocking plot twists along the way. So the last book is finally in your hands, and you can’t resist. You dive in ASAP.

You blaze through the pages, caught up in the adventure, reunited with your beloved characters, and you see them conquer those last battles to save the world (or whatever the story may be). You cheer, because good has triumphed over evil, and (hopefully) none of your babies died along the way. But… a few days after finishing… you ask yourself, “Was that the most creative possible ending? Or was it just a simpler choice to nicely tie up all the loose ends?”

Especially when it comes to fantasy series, where there are systems of magic or evil villains, you can usually get a sense of where a series is naturally going to go. If you understand what motivates the characters and what obstacles stand in their way, if you look hard enough you can probably see a kind of formula behind it all. That’s not to say that it’s a completely unoriginal piece of shit – no! Usually it just means that the author has crafted their story so well and so carefully that you have a full understanding of it. So it’s not a bad thing, but when that natural path has been established, it could potentially prevent a more complex ending from developing.

Honestly, I’ve been extremely confused about series endings like this this year. Two examples come to mind: the Grisha series by Leigh Bardugo, and Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen. I rated both final books in those series 4 oranges, but at the same time I’m not too confident about those ratings. Though the endings were (relatively) happy, and most loose strings were tied up, I don’t feel like either series really took that many risks in the last book – especially when compared to the previous books. It’s like you’re on a three-length journey, and the first two take the scenic, tourist route, with lots of twist and turns and dramatic views, but then on the third length, you just took the shortest, straightest route. It was still effective – you got to your destination and were happy to get there… but was it as great of an experience?

This can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways, for example:

  1. The antagonist, who seemed like he had a deeper motivation before, becomes rather one-dimensional – the evil baddie who must be stopped.
  2. The love triangle must be resolved, so one of the love interests is more or less removed as an option by death, character assassination, or anything other than the MC’s carefully weighed out choice.
  3. The more boring, expected love interest wins. (The darker, more dynamic, complicated one would just never work out.)
  4. Exciting battle/conflict seems like the end of the world, MC gets special powers/strength out of nowhere to finish it (Deus Ex Machina). Probably can be reasoned away because he/she is “the Chosen One”.
  5. No more character deaths, though earlier in the series that wasn’t unusual.
  6. Character appears to die, but then comes back to life.
  7. The ship ends up together and is then immediately “together forever”. (sappy fucks)
Mostly, though, it’s this feeling that you get afterwards. You’ve been waiting for a year or so on that last book – plenty of time to dream about “what could be”. While reading Siege and Storm, for example, I had this glorious vision of a totally unpredictable third book where Alina actually joined the Darkling and was or at least pretended to be evil for a while. That would have been groundbreaking and completely unexpected. But, uh, spoiler alert: that doesn’t happen. But what a story that could have been…

Let’s Talk!

This is a really hard feeling to put into words, and I feel like I’m just word vomiting all over my blog right now. But am I alone in this? Certainly I care as much or even more about the execution of an ending than the creativity/originality (and that’s why I still rated Ruin and Rising and Lion Heart so highly)… but as more time passes and I look back… I’m not quite sure I’m fully satisfied.

Basically, does a solid and well-crafted ending equal the best or most exciting ending possible?
And does it bother you if it doesn’t?

Please try to keep your comments spoiler free!

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14 responses to “A Fitting Ending or a Cliché Disappointment?

  1. Leah

    Hi Debby! Thanks for the blog posts.

    I felt disappointed in the endings to Brodi Ashton’s EVERNEATH trilogy–I thought the transformation of the bad guy into an amnesia-induced good guy was a cop out. But the biggest letdown was DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS by Laini Taylor. I love Laini’s writing to bits and the world she created in her first book of the trilogy, DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, is one of my top favorites. I thought DOGAM was afraid to take the risks its predecessors took. I still enjoyed it though and I look forward to more of Laini’s work.

  2. I’m not sure if this is exactly what you’re talking about, but it’s kind of related…

    I hate it when endings are too realistic, but in a bad way. Like in a, “we’ve won this battle but haven’t won the war” kind of way.

    I like endings that are dramatic and maybe far fetched. I like to see them CONQUER ALL or DESTROY EVIL or BECOME THE QUEEN OF THE LAND!! You know? I like those huge, epic endings, even if they’re not super realistic. They just excite me more and feel more satisfying.

  3. I have mixed emotions about how Ruin and Rising ended. On the one hand I feel very fulfilled by it, but on the other I wanted Alina to take a completely different and choose Nikolai because he was the best. I honestly haven’t finished very many series because until last year I had the perpetual fear of finishing any series so I’d read the first book and never touch the next ones. Some series I feel like they have strong endings like Mockingjay, but some have those open-ended endings like with Dreams of Gods & Monsters. Neither of those bothered because I felt like they were both concrete and where the stories for these characters ended. I do think Ruin and Rising wasn’t a perfect ending, but at the same time I’m satisfied with it. I’m still conflicted on the endings of The Ruby Circle and Opposition because while I’m happy and they are some of favorite series, I don’t feel like the endings are particularly strong.

  4. I think though that if it weren’t a “happy” ending per se, then it would seem unrealistic for these characters to keep going through even more crap than they have already just gone through. If they had to deal with more then sometimes i have a hard time believing they could be mentally stable after all that shit. On the other hand, if it wraps up too nicely then I also don’t buy that! I think there has to be a fine balance between the two!

    I personally didn’t like Ruin and Rising. It felt really anticlimactic for a series finale and it was just boring. Some of my favourite endings for finales are Dreams of Gods and Monsters, The Bitter Kingdom, The Sweet Far Thing, Into The Still Blue and The Crimson Crown. They felt natural in where they ended, without being like, well those characters could have endured so much more so lets make them endure more.

    Great discussion topic Debby!

  5. It’s so great that you finished 8 series this year! I really wanted this year to be the year of ME reading but it didn’t work out that way. I’m doing so much better though, and next year I am taking on very few ARC obligations so I can read what I want. It really makes all of this much more enjoyable. Required reading is jut not very fun for me. Heck, it’s not very fun for anyone.

    First things first, I didn’t read Ruin and Rising. I loved book one, liked book two a lot but not as much, and then when I heard how R&R ended (I asked someone to spoil it for me since everyone was complaining) I decided not to read it at this time. I HATE that love interest so I was not amused. That said, I pretty much had a gut feeling it was going to end that way since it was the easiest way, but I was hoping the author would do something different and unexpected. Not so much.

    Here’s an interesting fact about me: most endings disappoint me. It is very rare when I find a book I love and love the ending too. Usually a book just gains so much tension throughout the story for me that by the time I get to the end, nothing can live up to what I have expected it to. It SUCKS.

    I don’t know if this answers any of your questions, but I definitely feel where you are coming from.

  6. I do care more about execution too but I know what you mean. It really depends how the author has set it up to me. Like, Harry Potter wraps up in a satisfying way to me but there was still a lot of horror and heartbreak along the way. The stakes were high and you could FEEL that. Conversely, Twilight turned everything on its head in the most preposterous way, ignoring its own rules, mythology, and deadly stakes. That pissed me off. I wanted more from Ruin and Rising. I didn’t find it that satisfying at all, despite enjoying Lion Heart for example, or Harry Potter, or Mockingjay. It didn’t fit the book to me and that’s what sucked. And with Allegiant, she did take risks- BIG risks- and I appreciated that even if I thought the end could have been done in a more emotionally satisfying way. Ugh. Now I’m word vomiting and sincerely hope I didn’t spoil any books for you lol. I guess it’s a case-by-case for me. I don’t mind cliches if they are written well and fit the CHARACTERS or STORY. And while I really like happy endings, I don’t need them if the author thinks something worse or more ambiguous works better for his/her book.

  7. Those ‘easy way out’ endings are always so annoying. It sometimes makes me feel like I’m reading a book for nothing, because you already know how it’s going to end. Predictability isn’t always bad, but when endings are starting to sound the same, it can get boring.

    Like you, I was hoping for a surprise ending for the Grisha trilogy. The series had such a build-up and I was truly believing it would be different. If she had joined the Darkling, that series would have been brilliant and by far one of the best series ever. Now, it sort of disappeared in the stream of endless other series. It had a chance to shine, but instead it failed to stand-out.

    A fitting ending is something I prefer over open endings, because I need closure, but it definitely leaves me disappointed every now and then. That feeling of it could have been SO much more than this>/i> is the worst. So no, an ending that seems fitting for a story doesn’t always mean it’s the best and most exciting ending.

  8. MJ

    Sorry my response is a little late, work has been kicking my butt this week. But this is such an interesting topic.

    Honestly, one of my least favorite endings is Harry Potter. I love the book up to the epilogue. I really feel like it would’ve been better if it would’ve been cut out so readers could guess what’s happening next. I liked that end at Dumbledore’s office.

    I also really didn’t care for the ending of Vampire Academy. It just felt dragged out and honestly, Rose got her happily ever after a little too easy. But it’s not the worse ending to a vampire series even that goes to Twilight and the placenta eating baby.

    Oh, and then there’s the ending to The Selection series (well, the first part of the series since it got expanded) can you say cringe at who walks America down the aisle.

    I’ve heard a lot of grumbles about the Grisha series, which might be why I haven’t finished it yet. Another popular one that seems to disappoint is the Divergent series. I never read those books, so I really can’t judge.

    There’s few series endings I’m actually happy with. But then again, it’s hard to get me to actually finish a series.

  9. I love how you point out that the second book is great because there are still so many possibilities. You are on point with the Grisha series. The ending was just so disappointing, even thought we all knew what was happening. It would have been so GUTSY to change up the love interest direction in the middle, you know?

    Another disappointing ending has to be the end of the Blood Red Road. Where the Hunger Games ended with a message, Blood Red Road just ended with misery and a whimper. It seems to me (coughAngelfallcough) that so many series just run out of steam at the end. Like, the author is sick to death of the story and they want it over. There are so few conclusions that make me happy, because, like you said, all possibilities and chances are off the table at this point.

  10. I’m a bit terrified of reading the final book in the series, because that’s it, after that none of my hopes and dreams for the story and the characters might come to pass cause it’s not what/who/how the author envisioned it. So I don’t actually finish a lot of series.
    But I did read Ruin and Rising and I can see why people wouldn’t like it so much, but I loved it, even if I was shipping another ship. Having Alina be with the Darkling would have been very interesting, but I don’t think that choosing this boy was the easiest route, there was pain and growth in their relationship and sure, I despised him in Siege an Storm, but they both turned it around in R&R. I think it might actually have been an easier choice to go with my ship, cause basically everyone loved him.
    But I ramble.
    More in general on series’ ending I do like a fitting ending to a series, but without the final book losing all of the excitement and spark that made me love the series in the first place. Like you mentioned, I don’t like the author pulling punches and for example not killing characters if that’s something that has happened before. I mean, if there aren’t violent deaths in the final A Song of Ice anf Fire novel, that wouldn’t work.
    Also, what I meant to say was: great post 😉

  11. Ooh, I love the breakdown of your reasoning — as a writer, it reads like a list of pratfalls to avoid! I think you raise a good question too, because on the one hand, the predictable ending can be disappointing, but neither would I want an author to pull something random out of their ass in the final hour, you know? I like foreshadowing, I like character arcs coming to natural, fulfilled conclusions, and I like feeling like the author Had A Plan. For instance, one of the things I disliked about Deathly Hallows, the last Harry Potter book, is that the drama about wand lore, wand possession, ~Harry besting Draco in a fight therefore the Elder Wand is actually Harry’s~ felt so out of place. In six previous books, we’d never delved into wandlore, and with the number of duels going on, you’d think everyone’s wand would be switching loyalties left and right! So bringing something in out of left field just for the sake of a surprising, twisty ending isn’t so great for me. I’d rather have an ending that felt like a satisfying culmination of everything that came before, even if it’s a little predictable.

  12. You know what? I have to say I have never really thought of this before! I guess I’m the sort of person who is more scared of the second book syndrome than I am of series enders disappointing me. I can name only a few off the top of my head who had, and one where that disappointment wasn’t enough to stop me from loving the book (i.e. End of Days). I feel like, because I read so many books, I’ve come to recognize certain plotlines and character arcs. Take Ruin and Rising, for example (I loved it, but I totally understand why people don’t). I knew how it would end, not because I’d read spoilers, but because I couldn’t see the series going any other way. Does that mean it couldn’t have? Definitely not, but I felt it stayed true to the start of the series and to where the characters were going. Even though you’re alternative reality above makes me kinda wish something like that had happened too. 🙂

    So, I don’t really know how to answer this question. On the one hand, I love unpredictable story-lines and twists I don’t see coming, but I also want them to FIT where the books have been leading up to. Not something that seems way out in left field, ridiculous, or just there for shock-value (hiii Allegiant). It’s definitely hard for authors, I think, to make their enders what they want but also keep them from becoming predictable and oversaturated.

    You bring up an excellent topic, Debby, and I’m interested in how everyone else views series enders. For me, if I’m satisfied and happy by the end, then I call it good. I’m usually okay with how they go, even if I think they could have been better.

  13. I dunno, I think there’s something to be said for the “natural” ending, where everything is wrapped up tidy. I mean, you don’t want to get too far out there, because “the most creative ending possible” would probably leave readers feeling thrown. There’s some satisfaction in guessing the end of a story and then being right. But there does have to be some balance between giving the readers what they expect and trying out something new. I think a truly good ending will have a little of both: coming to the expected ending, but maybe by an unexpected route.