Bad endings to stories bother me. Whether it’s getting through three hundred pages of a novel or two hours of a movie or a season of a series, it crushes me when they don’t stick the landing. This has always been true, but it’s become even more apparent as I’ve started writing.

This topic comes up in my book club a lot. Some people like a neat and tidy ending, tied up with a bow. Others like something more ambiguous. Some like happy endings and for some, tragedy resonates. I like all of the above, yet I require that it make sense, and that the storytellers take the time and effort to get us there…wherever there turns out to be.

This is also a common topic for me with my writer friends when we read each other’s work. Endings are hard to land. I think that’s why the more I write, the more I both appreciate a great ending and require one. The ending is a key element to any story and a writer needs to work hard to get it right.

I just finished watching the mini-series Shogun, which was amazingly good, right up until the last episode, which was entirely disappointing to me. I appreciate that it was still a good story and would recommend watching it, but that last episode took my rating from a nine to about a seven (maybe even six). I won’t dredge up the whole trauma of Game of Thrones here, but suffice it to say that the ending of that series completely ruined that entire show for me. I LOVED it and then 100% did not. You can’t take someone on a ride and then completely change the whole thing at the end. For Shogun, the series was filled with movement and action and intrigue, and then the last episode was quiet, lots of exposition and shared glances, an entirely different tone to the rest of the series, which was jarring.

We talk a lot in writing circles about showing, not telling. My writing group has said it to me about two hundred times, “show, don’t tell,” which means if my character is upset, don’t write, “Kai is grieving,” but instead talk about her barely getting out of bed, and when she does, she watches all the ABC afternoon soaps in a row because she doesn’t have the energy to even get up and change the channel. Showing it makes the reader feel it, while telling keeps everything at the surface and isn’t compelling. Showing draws the reader in. The last episode of Shogun was a lot of telling and very little showing, which was disappointing because the rest of the episodes nailed the showing.

This also made me think about a recent book club book, Demon Copperhead, which I wanted to like more than I did because I love Barbara Kingsolver. Parts of this book were slow, with too much showing. I got it. I didn’t need to see person after person in the depth of their addiction. Yet I started to really like it toward the end, but then it just ended out of nowhere. We got words and words and words about certain moments in Demon’s life, and then a summary for the conclusion. It was jarringly sudden and boom, it was over.

Obviously I sound critical, and part of that is because of how much I have struggled to get the endings of my books right. I rewrote the ending of All I Know several times, partly because of feedback from beta readers and partly because I remained unsatisfied. The characters were ultimately always going to end up where they end up, but how I got them there in the last fifty pages or so was a struggle. I hope I got it right. I hope it’s satisfying. Primarily, though, I want it to align with the story as a whole. I want the pacing and tone to match throughout the book. I want the characters to act in the ways you’ve learned that they act.

One of my favorite books of all time is John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and it has one of the best endings ever. Everything that happens in the book turns out to be a trail of breadcrumbs that leads to the culminating, climactic event. It is all building to one place, and it is pretty close to perfection. Oh, and it breaks my heart every time, but isn’t that wonderful, really? Is there anything else to want from a story than to make you FEEL? That is pretty much the whole deal for me.

And this was the problem with Shogun. I couldn’t care less about the last episode. I didn’t feel anything other than bored, and that is not the climax I was hoping for. It was no climax at all.