I've never really believed that the final chapter can make or break a book. Well with the exception being it being either truly horrific, or a thriller or a mystery that not only doesn't result in closure, but ends up creating even more questions than it answers, as with one bestselling author's latest books that I recently read.
However, that doesn't mean it's not important. Because it is. Very. While the first chapter is meant to draw you in, and all the subsequent ones keep the reader engaged enough to keep turning the pages, it's the final one that leaves them closing the book with a sigh of satisfaction or a vague sense of discontent.
Unfortunately, for the last four years, my final chapter of one of my manuscripts, has been the latter. It's not that I hated it. And it wasn't that I could put my finger on what was exactly wrong with it. It just wasn't... right. For some reason it didn't feel worthy of my heroine.
After everything she'd been through, it was like I left her hanging with this slightly soppy, introspective, anti-climactic exit. I could almost see her standing with her hands on her hips, glaring at me and saying "Seriously, after everything, this is where you leave me?"
The problem with not knowing what is wrong, is it's really hard to make it right. And so I tinkered with the scene and I edited it and I rewrote it and four years later, and who knows how many rewrites, it still stunk.
And then one night I woke up and realized. IT WAS ALL WRONG. All of it. The scene didn't need rewriting, or editing, or a better use of the five senses. The entire scene needed to be scrapped and replaced with something completely different.
And I had an inkling of what that new scene should be. So I scribbled something down but, while I knew it was heading in the right direction, it still wasn't it.
On Tuesday night I was jolted from my sleep again. And this time I had it. The new scene was right, but the choice she made was wrong. She had to make the different decision.
The opening line showed up on my notebook page. Then the closing line. Then a completely new character who linked it all together.
Last week, I finally sat down and weaved it all together. And as I tapped out the final line, I could see her leaning back in her chair, pumping her arms and saying "FINALLY!" Finally a scene that tied up all the lose ends, gave her closure and was worthy of all the trauma I'd inflicted on her for 300 pages. Finally a scene that I wouldn't be embarrassed to submit should I ever be lucky enough that an editor wanted to read it. Finally an ending that made me believe that people who read it would turn the final page with a satisfied smile, rather than a feeling of discontent.
What about you? How important is the ending of a book? Is it make or break? Does it matter if the rest of the book has been amazing? What makes you close a book disappointed? Contented?