The importance of crafting a good opening hook gets a lot of attention in the writers' blogosphere. Likewise, character arcs and plot structure. After all, for the ending to be of any purpose, the reader has to get that far.
But I hear less about what makes a good ending, and if I'm going to love a book enough to re-read it—and I've always wanted to write the kind of books that get read again and again—the ending had better be lovable. Here are a few ways to kill an ending.
The Info Dump
All right, I can permit a short epilogue in which a handful of minor concerns get wrapped up, if—and only if—it follows at least one solid, fully-developed scene in which the tale has its resolution and the characters achieve their peace. But info dumps can make for trouble: sometimes they say too much. As a reader, I prefer to be left with a little scope for imagination.
The Wannabe Happy Ending
It irks me when an ending is wrapped up so quickly that either we don't get to experience the protagonist's happiness, or the joy doesn't come in proportion to the suffering. Bittersweet and tragic endings have their own rules, but a happy ending should be good and glorious and long enough to enjoy.
Writers: Please don't start a plot thread you can't finish.
I might never forgive Thomas Hardy for putting the word justice in scare-quotes at the end of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The ending was cruel enough—I think the reader gets the point without it having to be said. Obvious agendas are annoying anywhere they occur, but they evoke sure disdain when they pop up out of nowhere on the last page.
Even if the book has a sequel, this is just not kind.
Good endings come in happy, bittersweet, tragic, and many gradations of each. But one final note, for the edification of writers: If the book is going to end tragically, and the point is that life is chaotic and miserable and meaningless, I don't care how you write the final pages. I am still going to hate your sorry guts.
Have I missed anything? Do you have favorite endings, or endings you love to hate? Let me know. I'd love to learn from your thoughts.