I admit it; I’m one of those people who read the last page of a book first. Not all the time, mind you, but if I’m unsure of a book, I will pick it up and flip to the very end. Now I don’t read enough of the end that I ruin any mystery contained therein, but I read enough to see if I’m intrigued by the final outcome of the book. Why do I do this? It’s simple. If I’m standing in a book store and read the last page, I get a feel for whether or not I’ll become invested in the lives of the characters the story is about. If I read that page and simply don’t really care to know how they ended up where they ended up, I figure I won’t be all that emotionally vested in the story of those characters and will probably not end up liking the book. I admit that this isn’t always the case with every book; I have read some books where the ending was the only good part of the whole book, and I’ve read others where I wasn’t all that interested in the ending but turned out to be absolutely wonderful books. I still feel, however, that the last page of a book can be a good gauge of the story as a whole, and unless a book comes highly recommended from someone I know personally, the ending of a book can make me put it back on the shelf and walk away.
I’ve found that I’m not the only person who does this… which eases my mind (and reader’s guilt) quite a bit. What this says to me as a writer is that the ending of a book can be just as important as the beginning of one. Think about it, have you ever read a book that you just loved and then the ending came and left you cheated or disgruntled because it just wasn’t good? I’m not saying one of those sad endings that made you cry, because as much as I love a happy ending, endings aren’t always of the happy variety. I’m talking about those endings that just don’t make sense, or happen too quickly and too neatly to be believable, and yes, even those happy endings that you just know shouldn’t have happened. Killing off a character at the end of a novel is only a good thing if it makes sense. Then again, keeping a character alive is only a good thing if it makes sense as well. As much as we Homo sapiens love a happy ending, we hate them if they don’t make sense and fit the rest of the story.
A case in point: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I’m assuming that most of you reading this have already read this book (or are completely uninterested in reading it, take your pick). If you haven’t read it and you’d like to, skip this part as there is a major plot spoiler here. For the rest of you…
We know that Dumbledore is killed at the end of the sixth installment in the Harry Potter franchise. For many of us, this was a very emotional plot twist, however it moves the story forward and turns out to be a very important plot twist in the overall storyline and the way the last book unfolds. His death makes sense and pushes the plot forward. In fact, a large part of book seven wouldn’t make sense without this loss of a very important character. I’ve heard George R. R. Martin catch a lot of flak for killing people off in his books, but I’m guessing (because I haven’t read them yet) that each death serves a purpose and drives the plot forward. I know, I know… they’re on my very loooooong To Be Read list.
My point is that there’s nothing more jarring or annoying to readers than an end of book plot twist that just doesn’t make sense or an ending that just seems rushed and falls flat. If you’re writing in a series, and you need that plot twist to segue into the next book, then make sure it works with your current story. If not, you should go back and work it in until it does. Standalone novelists, make sure your ending is just as enjoyable as the rest of your book. Otherwise, you probably won’t have many readers following you into your next adventure.