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Endings and a Theory of Satisfaction

A friend who recently read Oh! enjoyed the book, although she wished it had ended differently. I won't tell you exactly how she wanted it to end because it would give away the ending. I know, it's hard to believe there are a still a few people who haven't read the book (ha-ha). Anyway, her comments and the ensuing conversation got me thinking about endings, specific to novels, of course, although my thoughts could apply to most kinds of writing.

To me, there are two kinds of endings: satisfactory and unsatisfactory.To me, there are two kinds of endings: satisfactory and unsatisfactory. Satisfactory endings provide a pleasantly sated feeling. Unsatisfactory endings leave the reader disappointed, even mad at the author. Notice that I didn't say the two kinds of endings are the Resolved Ending and the Unresolved Ending. Or the Surprise Ending and the Expected Ending. Or the Sad Ending and the Happy Ending.

According to the Theory of Satisfaction, satisfaction is inherently personal. For example, one person reads a novel with a Resolved Ending, where all the story threads are neatly tied up, and feels very satisfied with the ending. Another person reads the same book and feels it was too neatly tied up or not tied up in the way s/he wanted. To one reader, an Unresolved Ending leaves too much open while another likes the ambiguity, letting her/him think about what happened or might have happened or wanted to have happened.

Because satisfaction is personal, endings are tough to write.Because satisfaction is personal, endings are tough to write. I think most writers want their readers to feel satisfied at the end of 300 pages. As I mentioned previously, I try to have an ending in mind when I start writing. It's the ending I feel provides the highest level of satisfaction based on the story and characters and what I'm trying to accomplish with the book. Of course, it's a moving target as I write; so many things change during the process.

My friend asked if I'd written or considered alternate endings to Oh! Yes, probably a dozen by the time the final draft was finished. In the end (so to speak), the ending that stuck seemed the right one, the one providing the most satisfaction. At least to me.

When you do read Oh!, be sure to find the Epilogue which is a few pages after the last chapter. Some readers didn't find it until I pointed it out to them. The Epilogue does change the ending. Before and after the epilogue, there are several pages of color art providing a mono no aware moment through the book design itself.

Speaking of book design, I don't know if many readers pay attention to book design, but it really is an art. And Josh Powell, Oh!'s designer, created a masterful integration of story text and the "exhibits" of the main character's writings and poetry, and photos, sketches, and art. An example of how he used Linda's original art is shown in the images with this entry.

Thanks for reading!

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Todd Shimoda has published two popular novels that deal with Japan and Japanese themes: 365 Views of Mt. Fuji (Stone Bridge Press) and The Fourth Treasure (Nan Talese/Doubleday). The books have been translated into six languages with over one hundred thousand copies printed worldwide. The Fourth Treasure was listed as a 2002 Notable Book by the Kiriyama Prize. He lives in Hawaii.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. 365 Views of Mt. Fuji: Algorithms of... Used Trade Paper $4.95

Todd Shimoda is the author of Oh!: A Mystery of 'Mono No Aware'

One Response to "Endings and a Theory of Satisfaction"

    Grace Turton September 3rd, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I certainly enjoy satisfactory endings and hate unresolved ones!
    The ending of a book can make it bad, good, or excellent. If the story is excellent but then when you reach the ending you do not like it, there’s no way you’ll recommend it, right?
    I've been searching for documents about books and I found this site: Yellow documents.


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