What Is a Perfect Ending?

During a ThrillerFest panel moderated by author Nancy Bilyeau (Joanna Stafford series), authors Brenda Novak (Whiskey Creek series), Chelsea Cain (Gretchen Lowell series), Ben Lieberman (Odd Jobs) and Michael Sears (Mortal Bonds) discussed book and series endings, and how they hope readers feel after reading them. Here are some highlights.


Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 1.04.02 PMThis column by Adrienne Crezo, managing editor of Writer’s Digest
magazine. You can find her on Twitter as @a_crezo.

Brenda Novak: “I’m not a plotter, so oftentimes I’ll find out at the end who the villain is right along with the reader. … [At the end], I really feel as if I want my readers to have a sense of denouement, a sense of fulfillment. But I don’t want to tie it all up too neatly.”

Chelsea Cain: “Sometimes you make a reader unhappy, and that’s ok. Think of Romeo & Juliet, Where the Red Fern Grows. It’s sad, and we want it to be less sad. That tension of unfulfilled desire is a tempting one [to resolve], but that’s a mistake. …

And I’m not obsessive in terms of editing. I won’t spend a poet’s time on each word … but I’ll spend hours on that last sentence. Sometimes 80 hours, just on that one piece, because it’s so important.”

Ben Lieberman: “I would say [I want readers to feel] exhausted. I think the feeling of being exhausted, like they’ve been through a journey, is important [to the ending].”

Michael Sears: “As a child, I always wanted Shane [of the 1953 film, Shane] to come back. As an adult, I understand that it was the perfect ending. I think a lot of people appreciate ambiguity and making their own decisions about what happens [at the end].”


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