If a novel doesn’t end in a way I like, I probably won’t read another story by that same author. I’ve already noted, in my comments about Good Beginnings, that, for me to read very far in a novel, I have to like the main character. She or he has to be somebody I can pull for, can hope for, can be nervous on behalf of.
If an author gives me that person, but then allows that person to die at the end under “wrong” circumstances – that is, not death from old age in the arms of loved ones and with a deep faith in God – then I am acutely disappointed. I know, of course, that good people do die in other circumstances every day, but I don’t want to invest myself in a good story only to have it end in a disappointing and depressing way.
Many literary critics seem to view that differently. Many critics seem to think that endings in which things turn out well for the main character do not represent how things are in the real world. They may decide the book is a failure for that very reason.
My view, in contrast, is that things quite often turn out exactly that way in the real world. Many childhoods are happy. Many marriages are happy. Many people die in old age in the company of their loved ones, having lived lives that are praiseworthy.
One of the dictionary definitions of the highly useful word denouement is, “…the climax of a chain of events.” Since my novels – both the adult and the young-adult stories – focus on mystery and action, the denouement usually includes some sort of violent conflict in which my main character and her family are in great danger. It’s not at all clear to you, the reader, whether or not she and her family will get out of the danger at all.
In my stories, that’s the denouement, and it usually comes in the next-to-last chapter. In the very last chapter – the chapter after the denouement – all the loose ends are tied up, which usually means there is conversation: people explaining what the outcome of the denouement is likely to mean, for them and for the world.
That last chapter, then, is a return to normalcy. My central character has survived. She, and we, are now focused on her future. What is next for her and her family?
And, in my stories, that final chapter is always filled with hope, a future filled with Christian hope for her and her loved ones. One of my readers once said to me, “I trust you to give me the kind of ending I can live happily with.”