What do the following Mormon market novels have in common: Angel of the Danube, Brother Brigham, Hunting Gideon, Kindred Spirits, On Second Thought and Salvador*?
- I have read all of them and like all of them.
- They each have something wrong with their endings — generally minor things, but they each have a moment (or moments) that made me go “wait a minute.” That jerked me out of the reading flow.
This is not to say they are “bad” novels or that they totally fall apart in the end or that I know how they should be fixed.
And I want to point out that ending a novel perfectly is one of the most difficult feats in literature. Short story endings are easy (relatively speaking). Novel endings have a lot to do and they have to finish up while tying up at least some of the narrative threads. They have to maintain intensity but also allow a little bit of catharsis and slackening of tension. A bit of resolution is nice. If you end too abruptly, the reader often feels cheated. On the other hand, if you tie up all of the loose ends, the ending is often too pat. It’s a hard thing to do and even some novels that are considered part of the canon don’t end all that gracefully. For example, I found the endings of Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King and The Adventures of Augie March to be weak. Heck, Kafka couldn’t even end any of his novels. So I don’t raise this because I want to bag on the authors of the novels listed above. All worth reading if their author and subject matter appeal to you.
However, as a believer in craftmanship in fiction, I also think that with the novels above (many of which are first or second efforts) much of the blame lies with the immaturity of the writers. And with that in mind, I’ve asked Stephen Carter to post about how to write better endings over at The Red Brick Store. So head on over there and find out how to fix your endings. Meanwhile, let’s talk here about what novels have endings that work for you and novels that fall down a bit in the end.
* There are probably other Mormon market novels that fit in this same category, but these are the ones that I was able to pull out of my head without going through my entire library.
Updated at 11:30 a.m. to reflect that Stephen’s post was up.