What happens when you don’t see the ending coming?

path leading to the lighthouse at Ridges SanctuaryI ask this question because I think there are so many reasons that endings don’t satisfy, but the biggest reason is that the author didn’t set you up for the ending they gave you. Even those endings you wish were different should be set up well.

When you read a book, the author should lay all the clues throughout the story for you to believe the ending. The clues in the best stories are only apparent when you have finished reading. That moment of ‘of course’ comes because you’ve absorbed all the little hints and odd happenings.

A great example

To me The Sixth Sense was a great example of this. Whether you guessed early, or just before it became apparent, or after the end, all of the clues were there.

I watched this long before I learned the craft of writing and I guessed just before the ‘surprise’ was revealed. I’m the kind of reader/viewer who is willing to go along for the ride so I didn’t look for the clues. As soon as I guessed, all of the pointers ran through my head. But nothing as I watched jumped out and said “look here” or  “don’t look here”.  There was always an easier interpretation of what I saw.

A not so great example

By the same director, Unbreakable. I understand some people were surprised at the outcome. I’m not a comic book fan, but I could see the ending coming from almost the beginning. I think it was because I couldn’t come up with an alternate reason for all the things that were happening.

The question

What are your favorite endings? Did the clues echo from the story for you?