Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Happy Endings

I recently read a famous YA novel called THE GIVER by Lois Lowry.  I'd known for a while that this was an important book to read, and when I finally got around to it, I wasn't disappointed.  The story gets you thinking about the big issues.  And I don't mean which of the Kardashian girls spends the most time cleaning out her razor after shaving her legs (I think we all know the answer to that one anyway).  I was left thinking about things like "What makes me more than just an animal living on this planet like all the other animals?"  And "How much individuality and freedom would I be willing to give up for comfort and security?"  This question was especially topical during the decade after 9/11, and may still feel very relevant to people in our country today.

So the book is a great read and has a wonderfully simply quality to it that allows complicated issues to be addressed with grace.

So how does it end?  Well, I'm not much for spoilers and too lazy to do a ***SPOILER ALERT**** thing, so I'm just going to say, it ends the way it must.  And it got me thinking about how books need to end (the one I'm writing, in particular) to satisfy the reader.  I think, as a reader, the most important part of a book is the ending.  Everything boils down to those last few moments.  If it's ended well (and by well, I don't necessarily mean happily) then the writer has validated everything that came before it and has cemented your impression of the book in the closing pages. 

A lighthearted book should have a neat ending that leaves everything tidy and polished. 

A suspenseful book should solve the immediate mystery, if not the full mystery, in a satisfying way without relying on gimmicks stuck in at the last minute. 

An adventure should conclude the current episode without ending the main character's career. 

And so on, and so on.

A book like THE GIVER which asks questions that can't be answered, only contemplated, needed an ending that doesn't completely conclude or wrap everything up.  And without giving too much away, that's what it did.  It left things open to interpretation.  Throughout the book, the position of the author is pretty well understood, but the reader is still given room to think for themselves.  I liked this ending.

Then I found out the book has sequels.

I haven't read the sequels, don't really intend to read them.  I think it was brave of the author to end the story the way she did.  I'm not totally sure what characteristic I can attribute to her writing a second and third.  This happened to another great book I read, LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  Another great book that I don't believe for a minute was ever intended to be a series.
Each of these books had complete endings for their stories and I wasn't left wondering anymore about the characters.  I was left thinking and pondering and even puzzling (these books made me a Seuss character apparently).  I didn't need a continuation of the story.  I wanted a different story that was as well written as these, but I was satisfied with what I'd experienced, and that's a good ending. 

When I wrote THE BURIED COVENANT, I went in knowing I intended the storyline to lend itself to a series.  As the book took shape I was jotting down ideas for subsequent volumes.  The first book was an origin story.  Jayke's story was just getting started.  The ending was easy for me.  Doors wide open and lots of adventure ahead.

I wrote THE INTERN'S TALE with the intention of it being a stand alone work.  I thought I could tell Kip and Abbey's, and even Will and Alabaster's, stories in one volume, wrap it up, pretty little bow in place.  But the original ending didn't resonate with my beta readers.  I had failed to follow my own rule.  I'd written an adventure (at its core).  Readers don't want to see these characters come to an end.  They want to feel that their lives continue on, with more adventures just over the horizon.  So I'm revamping the ending, and the shiny polished ending will live on only in my mind and on my hard drive.

Sometimes, as the writer, it's our burden to bear the knowledge that our characters' adventures do end at some point.  The excitement that was prevalent in the story we got down on the page has to fade over time.  Just not right now for the readers. 

The Harry Potter Series had had a shiny, polished ending, vanquishing the villain, passing the torch to the next generation.  But it had six books that ended leaving you wanting more.  More adventures, more character development, more secrets revealed.  But after seven robust volumes in the series, who could argue that J.K. hadn't earned the right to a happy ending for the Boy Who Lived?

All good things must come to an end. 

It's just the timing that has to be worked out.


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