It’s the Journey

From Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz:

She turned another page. “I already know how it ends.”

“You read the ending first?”

“I always read the ending before I commit to the whole book.”

He looked at her, baffled. “If you know how it ends, why read the book?”

“I don’t read for the ending. I read for the story. […] Life is too short to waste time on books that end badly.”

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Ms. Krentz’s character and I are completely in sync. Yes, I am one of those people who often read the ending first. Well, not actually first. I generally read the first chapter or two to find out what the story’s about and learn the main characters. Then I read the ending, then go back and read the full story. People who don’t do this find it inexplicable and appalling. “But you’re ruining the story! There’s no suspense left. Why bother to read the book if you know how it ends?” (Amazing how many of these people went to see the movie Titanic.)

It’s the journey–the story–that makes the known destination worthwhile, all the excitement and experiences of the trip. But first you have to want to get to the destination. The most lovely drive in the country is no fun if you’re on the way to the dentist.

For most fiction genres, we readers already know basically how the story will end. The mystery will be solved, the bad guys will get their comeuppance, the planet will be saved, the lovers will have their happily-ever-after–whatever applies to that genre. So reading the ending first isn’t totally cheating, it’s just reassuring oneself that the destination is good and worth the time spent on the trip there.

In an article for Bustle.com, Emma Oulton says:

I’ve heard countless bibliophiles proudly utter the immortal words, “I never give up on a book”. I get it, I do. Heck, I used to be one of you. But guys, I need you to listen to me now: You are making a big mistake. Reading is a joy; don’t make it a chore! Would you force yourself to finish a plate of food you were hating? No, you’d go in search of a delicious pizza instead. So don’t slave through that 800-page monster that you’re not enjoying. Swallow your pride — and pick a new book.

So, besides my musings (and my interest in hearing how many others read the ending first), what’s the point of this blog post? Editors, authors, readers harp a lot on how important that first line or paragraph is to grab readers. And many writing classes address how to fix your “sagging middle”. But don’t neglect the importance of a satisfying last few pages that carry the emotion and action and excitement to the last word of the book. If the last chapter is slow or confusing or just drags on too long after the climax, end-first readers like me aren’t going to bother taking the journey of your story.

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