Sunday, March 13, 2016

When Writers Go Wrong At The End

I read an interesting blog post yesterday called "10 Fantastic Novels with Disappointing Endings."

The author of the piece offers a brief examination on the endings of ten pieces of classical and modern literature and points out why they are disappointing. In some cases, ideas are offered on what could've made the ending more satisfying.

Whether or not I agree with the piece is not the point.

Or maybe it is exactly the point.

I think everyone has picked up a novel and found themselves disappointed by how the author drew the story to a close.

Ahem, The Lovely Bones. (I'm looking at you, Alice Sebold.)

What fascinated me about the post was a comment the author made in analyzing the end of Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl."

"Gillian Flynn also wrote the screenplay for the movie based on the novel and has taken a slighter different turn from the original narrative of the book. Maybe she tried to fix her mistake and maybe David Fincher wanted his audience to expect something a little different from what they have already read."

It's that piece in bold that started me thinking about the writing process and readers' perceptions. I've been heavily pondering that line since I read it, and I'm still not sure what to think.

Can a story ending that leaves the reader unsatisfied be considered a mistake on the part of the author?

I brought up Sebold's "The Lovely Bones" earlier because I felt incredibly unsatisfied that they [SPOILER ALERT] never found poor Susie Salmon's body.

My cousin laughed at me when I mentioned this and said, "Uh, that's kind of the point of the story."

Well, that's all well and good, but I needed a different ending.

When I was 11 years old, a little girl in my hometown was abducted and, to this day, only a trace of her clothing has ever been found. In my younger days, her story sparked a fear inside of me: It could've been me or any one of my friends. As I grew older, that fear matured into what if it was my child who was abducted?

Losing your child would be bad enough, but never knowing, never having answers would be a hell I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. To this day, Jill Cutshall's disappearance weighs heavily on my mind. I still say prayers for her mom.

I think that's why I wanted Susie's body to be found in "The Lovely Bones." It would've given me a sense of closure from that childhood trauma.

But that's just me. That's the way I perceive the story through my own existence.

I think it was Edmund Wilson who said,

"No two persons will ever read the same book." 

We all interpret art -- and the world around us -- based on the scope of our own experiences. It's our interpretation that determines our reactions.

If that's the case, can a reader consider an unsatisfying ending a mistake on the part of the author? Or is satisfaction something based on the reader's experiences and perception?

I'm interested to hear what others think. Offer your thoughts in the comments section or comment on my Facebook page.


Kathryn Harris is an award-winning journalist and contemporary fiction author. Her novel "The Long Road to Heaven" is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. 


Susanne Leist said...

Are cliff hangers considered unsatisfying? If a book is the beginning of a series, should it resolve most of the plot or else it would be leaving the readers hanging? I left a few questions unanswered at the end of my book.

Kathryn Harris said...

I think if it's the beginning of a series, you have to leave questions unanswered. I love a good cliffhanger, but that's just me. :)