I Laughed, I Cried

Endings.  Everyone’s got an opinion about them (in this regard, they’re a lot like titles).  And everyone is right:  how a book (or any art) leaves you feeling is about as subjective a moment there is.  “Yes, it’s well-written, smart, engaging, important,” people say.  “But the ending left me cold.”  You just can’t argue with that.  Sure, a book might be good, even really, really good, but that doesn’t necessarily save it from ending poorly.  How can this be?  Why is the final page so important it can trump – and squander – any goodwill the previous 352 pages has built?

And here’s the big, If-I-knew-the-answer-I’d-be-a-millionaire question:  What makes an ending work?

Personally, I like a little ambiguity, some uncertainty as to what the whole business “means.”  Yet I know that many people (the vast majority?) hate that kind of thing.  They want to know.  And they want me, as the writer, to tell them.  But more essential than the imparting of conclusive information, readers (and I’m with them on this) desire the experience of emotion at the end.  To close the book with a smile, or a tear, or a giggle, or a gasp of recognition.  On this score, I usually try for the tear-gasp combo with a giggle on the side…but as in all things, you’ll be the judge of whether I pull it off or not.

Here’s how Spielberg’s (I think underrated) A.I. left one viewer (I wasn’t in much better shape when I saw it myself):

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