Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Shocking Truth about Shocking Endings

"...and you won't believe the shocking ending!!!"

How many times have you heard this on television? Nearly every week, some show or another is promising its viewers an ending they won't believe. Or can't imagine. Or will be shocked by.


Sure, surprise endings have their place, but they've been way overused of late. Unexpected surprise endings might work in a short story or a television show, but a very good surprise ending is very difficult to write. Why?

1) In many cases, the audience is expecting it. Most people, when reading a story, are working to forecast the direction of the plot (Where is this story going? What's going to happen next?). This means that, aside from children (who are more of a pure audience due to their lack of experience), most readers will spot a 'surprise' ending a mile away. And, believe me, there is nothing worse than a surprise ending that falls flat.

2) Because of #1 above, writers must reach farther and farther for an ending that will actually surprise the readers. This means that, in many cases, surprise endings are becoming more and more improbable. Some even reek of deus ex machina.

3) Surprise endings often fall into the realm of cliche. Joe Bob thinks that everyone has forgotten his birthday, but all of his friends were merely planning a surprise party for him. Mary Jane thinks her boyfriend is cheating on her because he's out all night, but - wow! - he's really a vampire. Little Billy is being chased by a huge monster, but - surprise!! - he wakes up and finds out that it is all a dream.

Again, there is nothing worse than a surprise ending that is no surprise.
There are much better ways to build tension in your fiction. Over the next few posts, I'm going to explore some of these ways. There. I've told you what I plan to do and, therefore, have spoiled the surprise. On purpose.


Lady Euphoria Deathwatch said...

Hi Elle,

What a refreshing surprise ending to you blog today. Truth.

I do know what you mean. I've felt the same way about a lot of books I've read lately.

I've fell toward fantasy stories, because the unimaginable is do-able there. Now I just want a good likable story with a predicable ending just because it is so unexpected.

As to writing a story myself: Hang the ending all together. I just want to write and make myself happy. I'm not out for rewards. I want to be able to loose myself into another place and time, in a story well written. The ending is the place I wanted it to go. To another it may be rubbish.

Of the books I read, I often rewrite the ending, in my head, of a story to my liking. If the writing is good I do this less often.

The written word is such a strange but necessary way to communicate. It likes to think of itself as a true form but in the end it is smoke and mirrors erected in the mind of the reader.

Thanks for giving me more to think about.

Hugs, Euphoria

Elle Scott said...

Lol. I also re-write endings in my head! And you are right about a predictable ending being unexpected in many cases. I think that the best thing an author can write is a satisfying ending. And this, I believe, is often much harder than it would seem.

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