Once upon a time they lived happily ever after. Slamming the cliché opening and final lines of classic fairy tales together makes what comes in-between feel very silly, but there is something to be said for the satisfaction a reader experiences when things “work out” in the end.
Readers want an ending to make sense. It may not be HAPPY, but it has to be a logical outcome of the series of events. This is not to say that surprise endings are unwelcome —quite the opposite. It’s just that the surprise ending must rely on an internal logic and simultaneously be a surprise and a logical extrapolation of the previous actions.
How many times have you sighed with exhaustion at the end of a suspense thriller (science fiction, adventure or mystery) novel when the author resorted to a DEUS EX MACHINA in order to resolve an impossible situation? It annoying —even infuriating, because you feel like the writer pulled a fast one on you.
I love it when an author manages to surprise me at the end of a story — especially when I look back and realize they’ve laid the groundwork for the ending from the beginning of the book. This is something I try to do as a storyteller, but it’s a huge challenge, requiring a light touch. Ancient Greek and Roman audiences might have been happy when a god arrived in a chariot to fix the mess that the mere mortals could not clean up, but I feel cheated when a deus ex machina saves the day.
I want to be fooled and then rewarded with that “yes, I should have seen it” or “I thought it was going that way, but I wasn’t sure” feeling.
What about you?