5 Star Review: The End

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week topic: the end.

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Why am I starting with the end?

Because the end is the first thing I remember when I’m writing a review and also when thinking about buying other books by you, the author.  Your first chapter sells the first book, but your last chapter sells the next book.

I’m a horror lover that hates Stephen King books.  I’m not arguing his role as the master of writing good horror.  I simply hate the endings in his books.  That’s the only reason I haven’t bought any books by him in the last couple years.  I love the set-up, the cast of characters, the elements of horror and suspense, and the plot.  But, I’m tired of committing myself to a book that has a cheap ending.  My favorite book by him is The Stand.  Great characters.  Awesome plot and set-up.  How does it end?  Some random guy kills everyone with a nuke – worse is that the main character has no direct impact on the nuke.  If Larry Underwood had not traveled across the country and gotten captured by the bad guys – the bad guys still would have been nuked.  So why did Stephen King make Larry Underwood travel across the country just to get killed with the bad guys?  I don’t get it.

I gave 5 stars to these books because of the ending:

I gave 4 stars to these books because of the ending:

Warning: Spoilers for the following books

  • King, Stephen  The Stand
  • Sebold, Alice  The Lovely Bones
  • J.K. Rowling  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Cliffhangers

I despise cliffhangers.  The only books that should have a cliff-hanger are books about mountain climbers.  When I pick up a book for the first time and read the back cover, I expect that every question I have from reading that blurb is solved by the last page.

Is your book the first in a trilogy?  Then, there should be two plotlines.  One plot covers the entire series and slowly advances through each book.  The other is introduced and solved within a single book.  Two plotlines.  One must be solved.  And romance doesn’t count as a plot…at least not in the genres I read.

Plot devices

Let me begin by explaining what a plot device is – an object or character who is only in the book to advance the plot because the author “wrote themselves into a corner”.  You should never use it in the end.  I’m more forgiving if it happens earlier, but at the end is a no-no.  I should be able to backtrack to previous chapters and account for the placement of every person and object of importance.  There should be no “I WIN” button that magically solves everything – unless your entire plot revolves around finding this “I WIN” button…like the resurrection stone in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Red herring

I’m a big fan of authors using red herrings in books.  A red herring is a clue that intentionally misleads the reader.  I particularly like it when it is used for characters.  Such as, the person that I think will be the villain is actually the good guy.  Cliches are useful in this regard.  As a reader, I think that a cheerleader will be dumb and mean.  I think that the jock will get the girl at the end.  I think that the creepy guy will turn out to being the bad guy.  When these cliches don’t prove true at the end – it’s an awesome surprise.

Chekhov’s gun

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”  - Chekhov

 This means that you should only mention and describe what is important to your plot.  If you mention that someone owns a gun, I expect that gun to be used somewhere in the story.  If you mention that your main character is OCD, then that trait should have some impact on the plot.  If your main character mentions that her cousin’s sister’s friend is in town, then that person better make an appearance.  Your last chapter is your last chance to prove that every single character and object mentioned in your book is essential to the book.

Twists

Imagine a twist as the icing of a cake.  Your story should still have an end.  There should still be a beginning, middle, and end to your book before the twist.  The twist happens after.  It makes the reader question everything.  I remember that the Goosebumps series always ended on a twist.  I remember that the end of each book was somewhat happy and then there was always something on the very last page that creeped me out and haunted me for days afterwards.  Master and Commander:  The Far Side of the World had a fantastic twist.  Two seconds before the twist was revealed, we had a decent ending to a fantastic film.  The movie could of survived without the twist.  Then the twist happened – and the only thing I wanted to know is “When will the sequel come out?”.  Nearly 10 years later and no sequel, but my point is that if you’re writing a trilogy – a twist is definitely a great way to get your readers to buy the second book after the first.

Predictable

Whatever I think will happen once I figure out the plot can’t happen.  I want to be surprised.  I want to be wowed.  Or you need to spend the entire novel misleading me to believe that what I think will happen…won’t happen…and does happen.  I thought that The Lovely Bones was amazing in that regard because we know at the start of the novel that Susie is dead.  We spend the entire novel trying to convince ourselves that somehow she is still alive.  At the end, we’re heartbroken that she was, in fact, raped and murdered by a child molester.

Your goal as a author is to stick hints and clues of the ending throughout the story and hide them so well that I don’t know what is going to happen until it happens.  But when the end happens, it makes perfect sense.


TL;DR?  Here’s the short version:

That’s it? = book ends on a cliffhanger

Where did he come from? = book uses a plot device

Oh, I thought… = book uses a red herring

Object picked up in chapter 3 saves the day = book properly uses chekhov’s gun

Wait, so did she or didn’t she? = book ends with a twist

Girl ends up with hot, rich guy that has dark hair and blue eyes = book is predictable


What makes you love or hate a book’s ending?  What are your expectations as a reader?

5 comments on “5 Star Review: The End

  1. I’ve never met anyone who liked a cliffhanger. Why do authors do this? Having the book end mid story is terrible, but I especially dislike it when the core plot of the book reaches a conclusion and the author continues solely to create the cliffhanger. Does this really sell books? As soon as a series has a cliffhanger, I’m less likely to pick up the next because I no longer feel that I have the guarantee that I’m getting a complete story. If I really love the story I might wait for the series to be written in its entirety and THEN read it when I won’t be thwarted by false endings. Growl!

    • I can’t think of any book that ended on a good cliffhanger (The Empire Strikes Back was a good cliffhanger movie). I don’t mind it between chapter breaks but at the end makes me not even want to read the next book either.

      I’m with you, if I know the book will end like that, I’ll wait for the series to finish before I start…and that’s only if it has really great reviews.

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