How to Ruin an Ending in One Easy Move

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) was a fantastic movie. Heartbreaking, suspenseful, psychological. Yes, one hour and 15 minutes of it was great. The last 5 minutes, however, were horrendous. You see, this movie suffered from Cop-out Ending Disorder, and it ruined the entire thing.

Spoilers are included in this post, but don’t worry. If you watch the movie, you’ll be so confused by the ending that only the final screen’s warning will hint at what actually happened. “In order that your friends may enjoy this picture, please do not disclose the ending.” That was the only thing that told me the filmmakers hadn’t gone crazy. I had to really think about what on earth I just watched and only then did I finally understand. That’s when I got really annoyed.

Imagine you spend time writing a deep, sometimes slightly disturbing psychological suspense movie script. You write it all the way to the end and you have two choices: (1) satisfy moviegoers with something that fits the rest of the movie or (2) show that none of the intensity that led to the ending ever happened. That’s right, 30 minutes worth of movie were for naught. And somehow, for some unfortunate reason, Universal Pictures decided that #2 was the ending for them.

Even while you’re watching the bad ending, you think you know where it’s going. You think the main character has gone insane and it’ll end on a fittingly disconcerting note, slightly creepy and still within the movie code (in this time period, movies had to adhere to a movie code where everyone gets their just desserts, essentially). But no. It turns out none of the most satisfyingly dark stuff ever happened and everything is okay and everyone lives happily ever after. In other words, they’ve chosen the dream trope. Oh, thank goodness it was only my imagination!

I don’t know about you, but the disappointment in this kind of cop-out forces me to hate the movie as a whole and want to rewrite it with the much better ending it should been given the dignity to have. If you, reader of my blog, are a writer, please don’t do this to me or to your book. It’s not fair to your readers, your characters, or your writing in general. Do something with your ending that will satisfy and, if possible, surprise. It’s 100% worth the effort to come up with something that is, at the very least, appropriate to the rest of the story. If readers remember your book based on the last thing they read, your ending had better make the whole experience worth it.

That’s my editorial rant for the day.

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4 comments on “How to Ruin an Ending in One Easy Move

  1. Cop out endings are indeed the worst. That’s one of the reasons I insist on going indie. I don’t want anyone calling the shots that will force such a shitty outcome. The dream trope or hallucination trope when used poorly sucks…. Which is pretty much always and it is indeed a crap out ending. For me, an amazing ending can save a book and the same goes for the opposite so I always go for something different, heartfelt, unexpected, or engaging for the end of my books. We owe it to ourselves, our readers, and our stories,

    • I agree wholeheartedly! That’s also the reason I chose to go indie. I don’t want a publishing company deciding that the ending should be different because the genre or trend is to have a certain kind of ending. No way! Finish strong for the book, do it justice. That’s what counts.

  2. wyattandwaltsawday says:

    Great thoughts. It’s almost worse when the movie/book/whatever is 99% good and the end is just phenomenally bad. If something’s going to suck, at least have the decency of being consistent.

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