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.'