Thursday, August 5, 2010

Was it good for you? Satisfying Endings

Tonight's scribechat focused on endings--those good and bad finales to books that you've invested your time, and for many of us, your emotional energy into reading.

Not everyone loves a cliff hanger. In fact, I'd say that many readers, yours truly included, feel cheated by an evil cliffie. But should satisfying the reader be the primary focus for a writer? I'd guess that answer is subjective, but for me it's two fold. Yes, you need to satisfy your reader. Yes, you want them to feel as though the time they've invested in your characters and their stories has not been an empty waste. However, you also want to tell the story you intended. You want to the plot to unfold, the characters to develop in the manner you envisioned. It is a slippery slope, this threading the line of happy reader/happy writer, but it is not an impossible one.

There have been books I've read that have left me unsatisfied. These occur mainly in series, so one can be forgiving if we know there is more to come. However, intentionally withholding information, deliberately starting a new conflict at the end of a book is just, to me, a pathetic little plot device.

In our chat tonight, Les Edgerton author of HOOKED: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go, gave us his two cents. (For more in-depth discussion see his guest blog post here). Essentially, and I'm being abrupt with this summary, Edgerton said that cheating the reader, is cheating yourself. "If you don't resolve the story problem, the reader is definitely cheated." The result of that could be loss of readership and in extreme cases, loss of credibility as a writer.

Plot devices, such as the horrid evil cliffie won't endear you to anyone, not really. Oh sure, you may find yourself attaining a larger, devoted reader base who will see no fault in your work, but how sincere are they? How do you know if you've just got a large group of fangirls and boys who'll read your grocery list?

To satisfy the reader and yourself, you have to straddle that line. Edgerton makes it quite simple: "Good writing provides the skeleton and the reader needs to do the work of providing the flesh...[a satisfying ending] should contain a win and a loss and not be tied up neatly." And, "good endings should surprise, but, upon reflection, make perfect sense."

Our 'real lives' consist of us constantly staying away from conflict, keeping a distance from drama, but in fiction, you need to seek it out. You need to "seek it out at every opportunity."

So be true to your vision. Tell the story you want to tell, but be cognizant of your ending. Don't cheat your readers out of their satisfying ending. Find the morsels of growth, the ending that doesn't come wrapped up in a big, red bow. There is no need for a 'happily ever after.' There is only the requirement of 'happily for now.'


adrienne said...

As a reader, I consider a satisfying ending the saving grace of a work. It can be middling to meh all the way through, but if it closes well I feel like I didn't waste hours of my life getting there.

There's nothing I hate more than a cliffhanger--except when I don't. This is hard for me to explain, because sometimes a cliffie is the ONLY satisfying way a book can end. Take the example of series books: If you know there's another book coming, you expect the new conflict at the end. Not getting it can be as big a letdown as an abrupt or overly neat or entirely predictable ending, and that last impression is the one that lingers.

Also, adding this book to my to-read list. Thanks for the rec :)

TS Tate said...

He was awesome. Sorry you missed it, but there are transcripts if you want. I don't know about the cliffhanger even in a series. Les said tonight that each book in a series should be read as a standalone. I think that's true, in parts, but sometimes, simply not possible.

Anyway, thanks for being my cheerleader and helping me brainstorm tonight, you shiny, shiny lady! :P

Paul Greci said...

I really enjoy getting the scoop from Les on endings. Great fun and very helpful:-)

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks for the shout-out--I appreciate it! Looks like we have other stuff in common. I was born in Texas and grew up there and in Algiers, LA. Most of my life I've lived in New Orleans and other Louisiana towns, including Placquimine, Houma, Lake Charles and other places. I used to cut hair and was the artistic director of Snobs Salon in NOLA and worked at Albert Brown The Salon, Kenneth's, Uptown Square and other places in the Big Easy. I absolutely LOVE Louisiana!

And, you studied under Tim Gautreaux? Wow! He's one of my favorite writers. He and James Lee Burke "get" Louisiana better than anybody else...

Blue skies,
P.S. I'm putting your blog on my own blog's bloglist. Hope you get some new readers.

Les Edgerton said...

Forgot I used to spend summers on Grand Isle where my uncle had a camp. Grew up in Freeport, Texas, and reason I mention that is that all of my "homes" have been in the news the past couple of years with hurricanes, oil spills, etc. And here I sit in Indiana where nothing happens except hoping the corn gets knee-high by the fourth of July...

TS Tate said...

Thanks, Les for the shout out on your blog and for giving us some insight on last week's scribechat. I know...Dr. G is awesome and I am very, very proud that I got the chance to work with him.

Isn't it funny how Louisiana, (and the Internet, apparently) is one of those six degrees of separation places? Someone I know, you know because you know this one and that one? :)

I love my home state, honestly. I'd just love it more if I could get in a higher tax bracket! :)

Thanks for commenting.

@Paul, I know, I really enjoyed that chat as well. Can't wait to see what Lia has in store for us this week. :)