Tied Up With A Bow

The Problem of Overly Pat Endings

I find great pleasure in “rediscovering” books I read years ago. I rarely get rid of books I’ve enjoyed and keep many boxes of books in my attic. This weekend, while putting away luggage from a recent trip, I dug through one of those boxes and “rediscovered” several paperbacks I haven’t read in decades.

One of them was a historical romance (I’m not going to name it because I’m going to tank on it). I remember enjoying the atypical heroine and the realistic depictions of life on the American frontier. So it was with relish that I cracked it open, and I enjoyed it just as much as I remembered.

Until I reached the end.

When I closed the book, I felt unsatisfied, and a little disgruntled. The ending was a let-down. It was a typical HEA (“happily ever after”) ending, but it fell flat. There was no emotional punch. I’d shed some tears in the middle of the book, as the heroine realizes her own self-worth, but nothing towards the end. Why?

I re-read the ending several times, trying to figure out what went wrong. What was missing? I was invested in the main characters. I wanted them to have their HEA. Why wasn’t I satisfied when they got it?

Part of the problem, I’ve decided, is that, in the final scenes, the characters act in ways contrary to their characterization throughout the novel. The heroine, who has been extremely steadfast, runs away from an emotional confrontation. The hero, who has spent the entire novel doing the “right thing,” commits a small betrayal to test his feelings for the heroine. I appreciate that love makes people do crazy things, but these actions were not consistent with the characters developed through the previous 200+ pages. That left a sour taste in my mouth.

But the bigger problem was that the ending was too pat. It wasn’t just happy-happy for the heroine and hero, every conflict was resolved. Even minor subplots were tied up with a bow. Maybe I’ve gotten used to modern series where each book contains some unresolved threads that carry on into the next book, but I found such a pat resolution unconvincing and unsatisfying. Life doesn’t work that way. I understand the difference between reality and literature, but where the novel has worked hard to build a realistic and convincing world, to have everything resolved so neatly, so tightly, undermined that realism. It broke my willing suspension of disbelief.

Literary trends change over time. This book was published nearly twenty years ago; it was never intended to be part of a series. So maybe the author was following convention and fulfilling reader expectation with such a tightly-tied ending. But reading it two decades later, I find it flawed. Keeping the lessons I’ve learned from this book in mind as I re-write Throwing Fire, I need to stay true to my characters, but I also need to stay true to the realism of the world I’ve built, and not try to tie everything up too neatly in a bow.

Author: ejfrostuk

Writer of sci-fi, urban fantasy and hard romance.

10 thoughts on “Tied Up With A Bow”

  1. I find it really interesting reading books again, especially if a lot of time has passed. In some ways, I think it’s like a reflection of yourself – your beliefs, attitudes, opinions, reactions, and so on, and how these have changed over time. The same can apply to style and fashion as you mention above.

    I’m with you though, I hate it when everything is tied up with a neat little bow. It just doesn’t seem real – or even interesting! Even if a book is not going to be a series, I want to be left with SOME questions because that helps me carry on with the belief that these are real people, and helps the reader to imagine what the future holds for the characters.

    Great post though, really got me thinking 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you. Why did I take all the time to get to know these characters only to have them die senselessly? If you’re going to kill off your characters, okay, but give their ends some meaning!


  2. I think different readers look for different things in a book. Some love tearjerkers, where everything is ends tragically, and some want the fairytale happy ever after. Most people are probably looking for something in between, but there’s still a place for occasionally tying everything up with a nice bow because some readers may actually want that. It depends on whether you’re reading because you’re looking for a catharsis or just an escape from reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d agree different readers look for different things, and when I first came to that romance novel, I was probably okay with the overly pat ending. My reading preferences have evolved after reading a lot of urban fantasy and now the ending leaves a sour taste. Maybe a sign of the times?


  3. This is something I intend to change in my current WIP. I’m working on the first round of revisions now and found the ending to be too tied up. But I’m also adding a few more subplots during revision so it might actually right itself.

    Liked by 1 person

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