Saturday, February 17, 2007

Endings

I read a book yesterday, and I'm sorry to tell you I forgot the title. I really did! I'm not sure I would share it with you if I remembered it. (The picture is about a movie I haven't seen, but the picture seemed to match my entry today.)

The book was on the front tables with a decidedly chick-lit title, but plastered with blurbs and author bio and cover and description that basically denied the claim. As I thumbed through it, I realized that it was, of course, chick lit. In the first chapter, the author really did write in a literary style, but then lapsed into (regular?) prose.

But the book really irked me. The story line promised one thing, and it delivered a non-happy ending. Non-happy endings are okay with me, but the unhappy ending has to be better than the happy ending would have been, and there has to be a reason for the unhappy ending.

As I skimmed (unfortunately, this book was a skimmer) to the end, all the pieces fell into place. The story could go one way, or the other. It took road C.

So I ask myself: why?

Not to make an emotional point, not to make a story point. No, the only reason I could come up with? The author wanted to say: this is not chick lit. I'm a literary writer, and see, I've written an unhappy ending just to prove it.

I was put out, really put out. I remembered the reader email I got not too long ago, claiming that she loved every minute of the story until the very last chapter, which felt too rushed.

I suspect she was right. I will never make that mistake again! I bet that one reader improved my next few stories a whole big bunch. Endings have been on my mind lately.

As I discovered last month, short stories are incredibly hard to end. (I wrote a short that was supposed to be one chapter in length. It didn't end. I wrote two chapters. Editor wrote back that it couldn't end there! I wrote another two chapters and ... I think, I hope ... that the ending is suitable. But I could've gone on another four chapters, really.) I'm terribly out of practice with short stories.

A lot of short stories don't dig deep into emotion. It's clever story, followed by "what a clever ending!" I prefer short stories that have an emotional arc, ending with a punch that really gets you in the gut.

I don't need a happy ending. I just need an ending that satisfies me. I need an ending that makes me happy, inspires me, makes me cry, or makes me think so deep I'm still gnawing on it for days afterwards.

Whose endings do you like the best?

I loved the ending of The Cleaner by Brett Battles--great twist! And Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. Oh! And I just adore the endings of Jennifer Crusie novels. I always want to settle the book on my lap and just smile for awhile, basking in the satisfaction of the ending. She really does great endings.

8 bonus scribbles:

Edie 2/17/2007 09:40:00 PM  

When my CPs's book sells and is published (and it will), you'll love her ending. It's one of the best I've read. That's Michelle Diener's book, TIMELESS. (Although the title might change, lol.)

spyscribbler 2/18/2007 12:01:00 PM  

Oh, Edie! Will you tell me when it does? I've got my fingers crossed!

Therese 2/18/2007 03:30:00 PM  

Endings *are* tough, but every story has a "right" one. Sounds like the book you read ignored that in favor of, as you say, a different kind of statement.

I like any ending that satisfies. Tragic, profound, happy, startling, bittersweet--all are good if they suit the pages they follow.

Not long ago I read a very popular women's fiction title from a few years back, which ended with a startling plot twist. Great--except it absolutely did NOT make sense in terms of the 400 pages I'd just read. I felt manipulated by the author.

Some better reads with good ("right") endings: David Guterson's SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS, Anna Quindlen's ONE TRUE THING, all of Jane Austen...and yeah, Jen Crusie. :-)

spyscribbler 2/18/2007 08:09:00 PM  

Oh! I've read all of those! All very good endings, you're right. One True Thing was amazing, heartbreakingly touching.

It's that feeling of manipulation, that's it. You just feel ... used. I gotta tell you, I feel really bad for the reader I disappointed, because I know exactly how she feels!

StarvingWriteNow 2/19/2007 07:09:00 AM  

I think the ending I'll like best will be in my book, if I ever get to it!

Therese 2/19/2007 11:09:00 AM  

Try not to feel too badly for your reader--a rushed ending isn't fully satisfying, but that's usually an issue of author fatigue or impatience or oversight, *not* manipulation.

What bothers me even more than the author's choice of ending in the book I mentioned, above, is that everyone in the editing chain (agent, editor, publisher, etc.) let it stand that way.

I s'pose the truth is, most readers don't mind.

Mark 2/19/2007 11:59:00 AM  

How'd you get hold of The Cleaner? I didn't think it was out until June.

spyscribbler 2/19/2007 03:05:00 PM  

Starvingwritenow, you better get to it! You're almost there! I promise, a horrible, awful ending will feel AWESOME. And after a little break you can even go back and change it!

Therese, I recall the same feeling with a book I LOVED, loved, loved. The author was a new one, and I couldn't believe no one in the chain said anything. (I was later told that if I were British, I would have thought the ending funny.) Anyway, I don't have the luxury of a chain. I have an editor who adds commas, and that's about it. That's why it's better to be big-press published than tiny-press published, LOL.

Tee-hee, Mark! I've been a lucky girl, lately. AND I got my very first ARC. Ever! Imagine my delight when the book was actually awesome, too!