How Do You Like A Story to End?

TLWT smallEnding a story is always a challenge. When I’m starting a book, I often figure out the ending first. It gives me a target–something to aim for as I write. The target often moves as my characters develop and the storyline changes, but that’s okay.

If you’re a regular reader of my books, you know that I like satisfying endings. They are usually “happy endings” for the most part, although my stories contain enough strife that complete, unadulterated happiness is unrealistic. I want my characters to triumph, but they will have to overcome a bunch of hard stuff to make that triumph worthwhile. To me, that’s real life. . . or at least, it’s real life as I want it to be. I want a reward for all the challenges life throws at us.

The minor uproar over the ending of The Lies We Told has come as something of a surprise to me. (I’m not going to give anything away here, but if you comment and you’re going to be specific, please write the word SPOILER at the start of your comment.) What do I mean by minor uproar? I don’t recall ever writing a book in which the reviewers disagreed with each other so much about the way the book ends. At first I found this disconcerting (Oh no, I haven’t pleased everyone!!), but now I find it fascinating and I realize how much richer it makes the book for book club discussions. It’s always fun to read a book when everyone in the group universally loves it, but it makes for more revealing–and occasionally prickly value-laden discussions when different viewpoints abound.

Reviewer’s reactions have fallen into a few categories: Some see the ending the way I do, with character growth leading to acceptance and a desire to embrace the future. Others can’t buy that acceptance, nor can they view it as “happiness” on the part of the central characters. Still others just plain didn’t want things to turn out that way!

The Lies We Told has been reviewed by many bloggers, and I thought I’d share some of their comments about the ending with you so you can see what I mean. (Again, I won’t give away specifics).

Here we go:

“The happily ever after is a little shocking but satisfying nonetheless.”  —

“The Lies We Told is an amazing story about two sisters, who as different as they are, are bound by the witnessing the murder of their parents. . . you will never be able to guess what (their) secrets are. Moreover, the ending is a shocker but you have to read the book to find out. Diane Chamberlain has become a must-read author for me and I am sure you will be hooked by just picking up one of her books. The Lies We Told does not disappoint.” —

“I have to say, the ending for me was a very hard pill to swallow, I understood why it had to end the way it did…but that does not at all mean I wanted it to end this way. . . (Yet) he Lies We Told ultimately left me with a promise that even though things happen within the confines of your life, that define who you are – you do not always have to be defined only by them. . . it’s up to us to push past those confines and break free!” —

“THE LIES WE TOLD is a tender story of two sisters’ path toward rediscovering their friendship for each other. Their lack of honest communication into adulthood created a chasm in their relationship that neither woman acknowledged until a tragedy came directly in their path. Diane Chamberlain beautifully bares their dreams and their souls in THE LIES WE TOLD, and I am thoroughly pleased that I had the opportunity to read this novel.”  —

“I really can’t say enough about this book. It kept me up all night reading, though I have to say the ending was unbelievable, but darn can Diane Chamberlain weave a story so mesmerizing that a bad ending takes nothing away from the story.” —

“This story continued to move me. I couldn’t stand putting it book down for a second. I didn’t want to miss anything. It was such an intense story that it literally kept me at the edge of my seat. . . I recommend this book the next time you’re looking for something new to read. Just hang on to your seat and hold on to the tissue box- you’re gonna need it!”

The Lies We Told is an amazing story that’s beautifully crafted by Diane Chamberlain’s beautiful writing. I absolutely loved the story as it was told by both Maya and Rebecca. Both the characters were so well developed even from the very first few pages. And their sometimes drastic personality differences made the story an incredibly interesting read. It’s also the underlying theme of the lies we tell that transforms the story and explores the impact of our honesty (or dishonesty) on those around us. . . If I had any qualms about the book, it would be the ending and how the main characters lives ended on a happy, but not quite right place.”  —

“This book would have earned a 5-star rating from me (instead of 4) had it not ended the way it did.”  —

“This is a great book, alternately told from the point of view of each of the sisters.  Maya’s story is thrilling and unexpected; I couldn’t wait to find out how she would be able to rise above the obstacles put in front of her without anyone’s help.  And Rebecca’s and Adam’s love story was both touching and heartbreaking.  This distorted triangle was thoroughly engrossing and I couldn’t put it down!  With the poignant and sympathetic style I have come to expect from Diane Chamberlain, the Ward sisters’ stories come to life beautifully.” —

“The frantic pace of the novel was matched by never-ending problems that must be dealt with – people that must be assisted, medicine to be distributed — and Chamberlain handled it all with a deft touch. The book’s epilogue stopped me dead in my tracks and, despite everything, made me feel sad. And hopeful. But sad — all at once. That’s the mark of good storytelling.”  —

“Loved it, loved it, loved it! Seriously, I loved everything about this book: writing style, plot, characters, everything. If you like to read, read this book.”  —

“Wow, what a great book! The plot has a twist you just don’t see coming! I loved the ending and I think you will too! Diane Chamberlain grabs ya from page one and you don’t want to put this book down until the last page has been turned!”  —

“Like Picoult, Diane Chamberlain cuts to the heart of these characters’ secrets. Her plotting is amazing and the villains sneak up in such a way as to tantalize us to read just one more chapter, even when time is pressing us to do something else.” —

The Lies We Told is a contemplative, well-executed novel that was enjoyable to read and utterly engrossing.  .  .  The Lies We Told would make an excellent book club pick, as there is a lot to discuss, with both the characters and the plot, within its pages. . .  I have to say I abhorred the end of the novel.  While well-written, I just didn’t like the way things turned out!”  —

“The conclusion of the book was not what I was expecting initially, but it was exactly how I hoped it would end. Chamberlain has written a book filled with surprises that you’ll want to read in one sitting.”  —

“It is a complex and fascinating tale, well paced, with good dialogue as secrets are revealed with some surprises, twists, and turns. Readers of women’s fiction will enjoy this familial tale.” —

“I absolutely loved this book and think it is one of the best ever written by this prolific author.  I simply could not put it down and read it far into the night.  If you read one contemporary novel this summer, make it this one and I promise you will not be disappointed.”  —

This was a great read that I thoroughly enjoyed. . . It made me smile and cry (a lot) . . . It’s funny how you can think you want your life to be a certain way only to find that it’s really another life that you want so desperately that you are just afraid to admit it even to yourself. Our lives can also be a series of unconscious decisions to run away from pain that we can’t face or admit still eats us up. Also highlighted is the . . .  complex nature of the need to do the right thing by someone and yet resent having to do it at the same time. This is also a story of love and ultimately forgiveness. I have to mention that I had one small complaint. The ending of the book just didn’t ‘feel’ right to me.” —


I could go on! You can see the variety of responses. They’ve made me think about the way I ended the book. I hate disappointing a reader, and yet so many readers have been not only comfortable with the ending, but pleased with it. Others were pleased despite their discomfort. And still others saw the ending as I did–a natural and optimistic progression of the story.

I’d love to hear your perspectives, not necessarily about the ending of The Lies We Told but about the endings of novels in general. What works for you and what doesn’t? Please remember to write SPOILER at the beginning of your comment if you’re going to give anything away. And thank you to the Bloggers for their thoughtful and honest reviews of my book.


  1. debbie hearne on June 27, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    “Getting a reward for all the challenges that life throws at you.” That’s a perfect way to describe your story endings and I love ’em that way! I do not have to have a happy ending, just a contented one. This past year, I read a book that crushed me in the end (will not give title or author, although you have been compaired to her). I did not expect that book to have a happy ending, but I really do not want to be depressed over a book I have just finshed either.

  2. Julie Kibler on June 27, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    May be SPOILER, so tread lightly. 🙂

    I think the reason the end bothers us is because we want characters we grow to love to do the “absolute right thing.” The problem is, there isn’t always an “absolute right,” and in this case, it could be viewed as the “right” thing AND/OR the “wrong” thing all at the same time.

    So it messes with our value systems a little. It did bother me to an extent, but mostly for that reason. But it didn’t bother me to the point where I disliked the book AT ALL. In fact, I couldn’t wait for someone else in my little circle to read it so we could compare! Maybe I even got a little kick out of it, because like you, I figured it would cause extra discussion between readers, and that’s a good thing.

    If I’m reading (or writing) a “bittersweet” story, I totally expect a bittersweet ending. Well done.

  3. Julie Kibler on June 27, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    BTW … it’s entirely possible people are going to hate me when they get to the end of the manuscript I’m writing now. Well, unless my characters change things on me. 😉

  4. Diane Chamberlain on June 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Julie, I think that’s a really good analysis. In my mind, the ending is the “right” thing to happen, but I can understand how someone could think it’s the “wrong” thing, or worse, both right and wrong and that’s an uncomfortable feeling. Can’t wait to read your book!

    Debbie, I don’t like to be crushed by an ending either. Sometime it has to be that way, but I don’t want to feel manipulated into it.

  5. Denise on June 27, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    I like a book to end the ‘right’ way, too. I like a believable ending but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be predictable. It can be an unpredictable ending, yet still tie up all the loose ends and leave me feeling satisfied.

  6. Margo on June 28, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Diane, I absolutely loved the book…not everyone is going to like how things end but whats important to remember is this…the characters were happy with their decisions and came together as a family, and altho it might have been unexpected, it makes for great discussions…Dan Brown said the same thing when he wrote THE DA VINCI CODE…’it gets people talking’ and thats what great storytelling is all about…

  7. Kirsten on June 30, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Guess where I am going? To read The Lies We Told! You have intrigued me. I had not read it yet. Be back later. 🙂

  8. Brenda on June 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Love this iPad but trying to get used to it. Patience please. I have decided to get one later instead of a kindle. This is my sons. Dianne. I knew there would be this uproar because Margo and I usually agree with all books. We did not agree on the ending. This will be good for book clubs and publiciy. I am so eager to hear about the new one

  9. Brenda on June 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    The craft as always is fantastic as you are an expert in war you do
    My problem was. The ending. That is. Of course. The way life happens. I am a good example of it. You are an exceptional writer

  10. Margo on June 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Diane…I love a book that grabs me and throws in something totally unexpected at the end…yours did that and I loved it…Brenda and I disagreed but for me it was masterly told and reminded me that life is complicated…you got to the core of Maya and Rebecca’s relationship and reminded us that what is precious to some, is taken for granted by others…people will talk about this novel for a long, long time and it makes for fabulous discussions.
    Brenda and I almost always agree on books…she’s right tho, she did not agree with me on this ending…but we’re still good friends (-O:

  11. Diane Chamberlain on June 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    LOL on the iPad, Brenda. That keyboard can be a challenge till you get used to it! I’m curious, Brenda, to know how you would have preferred TLWT to end (if you respond, be sure to write SPOILER in your comment). Since I, of course, like the ending, it’s hard for me to fathom a different one that still feels real.
    Kirsten, hope you enjoy it!

  12. Brenda on June 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Margo and I are great great pals thanks to this blog. She and I discuss books and we are on the same wave length. I did not go along with. Hesitate to use the word like…spoiler. Spoiler. The sisters and the husband. Do not think sisters would be so congenial with the situation. However. I am a happy ending person. Best sellers are not always happy endings. Spoiler. I wanted the couple to stay together. Or at least for the husband to have chosen someone besides the sister.

  13. clicia Tremblay on July 2, 2010 at 9:33 am

    SPOILER ALERT: Though I will try not give anything away, pl be forewarned that some details may appear and I DON’T WANT to spoil this wonderful story for you.

    I “discovered” Diane Chamberlain literally a few weeks ago- or I started reading all of her books that I had been collecting over time bc I knew I would like her bt just had not made the time yet to get lost in her books. That ended a couple of weeks ago when I read “Keeper of the Light”- followed by “Her Mother’s Shadow”/”Kiss River”- LOVE,LOVE the trilogy, especially “Keeper”- an amazing book. I have a LONG way to go since Diane is so prolific LOL. Then, came “Breaking the Silence” which I liked a lot and now “The Lies We Told”. I read it one day/night…she keeps me up!! So here is my take on the book/ending. I was SOO touched by the story and the ending that I woke up feeling like I HAD to talk to somebody about it. I don’t belong to book clubs- I am a solitary reader- so I enjoy going to see what other people have written about a story.
    I liked her stories so much that I
    I knew from early on that the story was going to be intense and I would get pulled in. I think that we do some projections onto characters/stories and we use our own lives/feelings as a compass to guide us through a story. I also think that a good story takes out of our comfort zone and makes us think, sometimes even re-directing that compass. I think that “Lies We Told” is doing that to me. I just finished it and it is one of those stories that stay with you, that haunt you and you can’t stop thinking about it, tinkering with details and trying out the ending against what you would consider to be a more “appropriate” ending.
    I LOVE and intense/emotional love-triangle; my fave literary “torture” format. I wrestle with all the characters and I know I am going to get upset bt I crave reading them!!LOL. It is not so much the sexual betrayal that some stories bring forth- did not happen here- bt the emotions that propel people to act, to re-evaluate their lives, choices, the definition of “love” or “true love’.
    I have 2 small daughters who are extremely close and I have always longed to have a sister, so the storyline pulled me in. I appreciate the sisters’ differences and their approach to life. It amazed me that they never talked about their parents’ murders bt I guess that is part of the “keeping secrets”.
    I think that throughout the story you see characters changing and almost morphing into each other at the “exact” time when one is changing into another. I guess that is growth.
    I don’t think there was any “villain” or “bad” guy in this story- maybe the killer- or just fate, I guess.
    I am not ready yet to say that I don’t like the ending, cause I had a feeling it would end up as it did, though at first I fought it and kept saying, “no, oh, pl no”. Bt I could see the writing the wall and it came as even more of a surprise bc I thought I was “safe” LOL..darn you Diane!!:)
    SPOILER: I appreciate the way Maya and Adam’s love story unfolded- he is a charming man!!- and the way Rebecca’s closeness to him evolved. I guess to me part of what I would have liked differently – NOW maybe I will change my mind over time- is that I had more of an investment in Maya and Adam- though you could see that life had already thrown them a couple of wrenches that they may have not have been able to overcome. I also felt that Rebecca’s “affection” for him was just that, affection, and it felt one-sided, and given their horrendous circumstances that intensity/trauma/grief could have masked their feelings. One would understand how they would turn to each other for comfort. I also felt that 2 weeks worth of grieving for a supposedly “dead” sister/wife was too little time for them to entertain deeper feelings- or maybe it was there all along,that is the beauty and magic of good writing. I also thought that 1 year was too little time for them to have fallen into such a neat arrangement though Diane explained it beautifully and I can see it too. I guess bc they all loved each other, that love could have carried over. Still, I had mixed feelings about it. I still feel ambivalent bc I expected Maya’s ending, her journey, to be more Rebecca’s. I guess Maya proved herself to be self-reliable and independent while she was away and I guess Rebecca did come to see herself less of a globe-trotter after all- see how we can go round and round on this..hahaa.
    I guess that ending works bt I can’t wonder if a diff. ending could not have worked as well. So, maybe after I think/feel some more about this, I will let you know if still have problems with the ending. it is a beautiful story!! Thank you for writing it.

  14. Diane Chamberlain on July 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Clicia, thanks for such a thoughtful post! Through your analysis, I can really see how TLWT can make a good book for bookclubs. Originally, the triangle took place in Ecuador after an earthquake and Maya’s presumtive death went on for months. It may the compacted timeframe that, in part, upsets people. If you go way back in my blog, you’ll see that when I was writing the book, my editor changed her mind about having the story in Ecuador and I had to find a way to move it to NC. It works better in NC, for the most part, but the tightened timeframe may contribute to issues with the ending. Either way, I appreciate your take on the story and I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

  15. clicia Tremblay on July 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    I am new at your blog as well, so I will have to back and read. Yes, TLWT makes for very good/animated discussions, especially for us readers who feel very deeply and passionately for our characters and want to fight for them LOL. Yes, if I may say so, the tight tmeframe of the unfolding of the triangle felt strange, almost as if Maya could be somehow “easily” forgotten and she was such a likable/endearing character. Don’t get me wrong, I very identify with Rebecca too and at one point in my (single/career-minded)life was more like her than Maya- today with little ones, I am more of homebody LOL.
    Bt we do it happen that a person who have lost a life-long partner would take up with somebody else shortly after the separation/death. 9/11 was a perfect example of rescue workers/firefighters leaving their long-term wives to marry the widows of their former partners out of love/pity/guilt.
    So, my main “beef” – HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE, OF COURSE- in a way was that I think that Rebecca, who comes across as being more self-centered – in spite of the wonderful relief work she did- and somewhat resentful of Maya’s, ended up with Maya’s life. Yes, one can argue that Maya made diff. choices that probably made her happier in the long-term and sisters do compete/ are jealous of one another.
    However, Maya suffered a great deal in her life and then. Life is not just about a man-woman relationship either, bt again, a child/friends/sister won’t give you that kind of comfort either, thus, I think that Maya was somehow short-changed. She deserved more, bt, on the other hand, things had changed for everybody else too, so…see the circle is never ending.LOL..You can’t win!!
    Maybe you did such a great job making us care for her LOL. IMO, with controversial ending, it is always good for me to “feel” that the character I cheered for is Ok with his/her own ending, if it makes any sense.
    Anyway, now you “owe” us to continue the story.
    BTW, I am not familiar with NC – as I am with the DC area where some of your other books take place- so I was fascinated with the circumstances/places of Maya’s whereabouts after the crash. Amazin!!

  16. clicia Tremblay on July 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm


    Ok, I did go back and read the posts about TLWT and agree with a lot being said here. I think for those of us who feel ambivalent about the ending, some of what might have bothered us is the one sister/husband/other sister triangle, such relationship may still a bit of a taboo, overall, and sharing a man in such situation may feel slightly incestuous- though not unheard of at all. Anyway, may I put you on the spot then Diane, when you said here: “Since I, of course, like the ending, it’s hard for me to fathom a different one that still feels real.” I know you’ve said that the ending is what propels the body of your novels, right? So, why is that you can’t fathom a diff. ending for TLWT? Would any other ending not feel real to you? Do your characters ever change your mind about their fate? LOL
    Anyway, I am just curious.

  17. Celia Seid on July 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Diane I’ve been reading your books one right after another. Absolutely, hooked on your style. However, reading TLWT, it left me with an uneasy/incomplete feeling. The cultural taboo about sister/spouses bothered me, and still bothers me. While growing up there was always that underlying code among sibling/friends you just don’t do. It is a taboo. I bought about 10 of your books to read this Summer, and now I’m a bit apprehensive, about which one to read after having read TLWT.
    I don’t want to read another book with a similar ending. Very unsettling/uneasy for me.

  18. Diane Chamberlain on July 20, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Celia, thank you for your honesty. You explained your discomfort in a way I can really understand. I think you’re safe, though. This is honestly the first of my books I ever recall some people being upset by the ending. So enjoy the others, and thank you again for taking the time to share this.

  19. Denise on July 26, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I reviewed this for so I won’t repeat my comments again here. I just think that your suggestion that I skip the epilogue and make up my own ending is the one I’m going with.
    I don’t think that the ending stayed faithful to the characters in the way that you wrote them even though both went through a lot and experienced “growth” to some degree.
    Anyway — still gave the book a 4 star rating as you saw! And as I said, if you did go ahead and change the ending, I would buy it again.

  20. Debi Pride on July 26, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    I’m interested in being put in for the drawing for the frame (same blood, different planet) and a copy of this book. It describes my sister and I …. definitely not cut from the same bolt of cloth 🙂 Thanks!

  21. Connie Behrens on July 26, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    I would like to enter the drawing also. I have 6 sisters and we all have our differences. We get together every summer for a sister weekend. I am the oldest and turned 50 last year. The youngest is 16 years younger than me. We also have 3 brothers to add to the mix too. I enjoyed the ending of The Lies We told. Nice to have an unpredictable ending for a change!

  22. Helen Cummins on July 27, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Well, I must say that I can’t wait to read more of your books! I just read my first, Secrets She Left Behind, and thoroughly enjoyed it! I consider myself to be “way behind” on my reading. But I love to read and have become a Book-A-Holic! I truly enjoyed the ending of this story. I’m not much of a sleuth so I didn’t quite see that one coming. I am such a sap for a happy ending! So now I am on a quest to fill my library with all of your books!

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