HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!!!
Because I'm merrily marketing at the moment, (I'm interviewed AND reviewed at PondAcrosthePond, and there's another review and a chance to win a paperback over at Endless Reading) I'm bringing back some popular posts from years past. Until Thursday, every comment on my posts, or linked Breakable Posts can win a signed Paperback! (If you're not sure what to say - wish my Mom a happy birthday!)
And now, back to our regularly scheduled viewing...
I read a lot of bestselling YA fiction. And in the past year or so I've noticed a disturbing trend: Fabulous beginnings leading to merely average endings.
|My apologies if your kids saw that...|
Three of the last four BIG YA releases I've finished captured my imagination completely in the beginning, while the conclusion left me with a distinct sense of Oh. Okay. *Shrug*
These are good books! I still want to read sequels (or other books by the author). But none have knocked my socks off to the point where I'm pulling a bookstore manager across the desk, demanding she give me a release date for the next one now.
And that's a problem.
The reason I'm barking about this is because as a reader I want more. Much, much more. I want unexpected twists, satisfyingly noble conundrums and realistic failures leading to nail-bitingly close calls. In short: I want to close the cover and feel like the climax was...er... satisfying.
And that tells me something important about my writing. Some questions I need to ask myself for each and every book:
1. Does my book end on events the reader can only predict in hindsight (AKA: "I should have seen that coming!")?
2. Does the climax place the protagonist in a position so precarious that loss of life, love or eternal happiness seems impossible to avoid?
3. Is my protagonist forced to make a decision that the reader prays they'll never have to make?
If I can't answer "Yes!" to at least one of those questions (but preferably all three), there's a problem.
Endings can be as bombastic as a nuclear explosion, or as quiet as a sleeping kiss... but they must be fraught. Emotions must run high. Chances must seem impossible... And victory absolutely, without fail, must be hard-won.
Blog Reader says: That's all well and good, Aimee, but how do I do that?
I'm glad you asked, Friend Writer. The answer to that is as varied as the writers behind the stories... but I can tell you how not to do it:
PLEASE NOTE: These comments are based on a bestselling YA release of a few years back. Names / creatures have been changed as I don't want to point fingers.
I read A BOOK years after it became popular. For the first three quarters of the pages it was a triumph (in my opinion). The writing was great, the characters likeable, the tensions varied and unrelenting. Check. Check, check, check.
But the ending was a prime of example of a non-epic-ending. It's too easy.
As we move into the climactic chapters, the characters 'realize' the apparent cure for Creatury Shapeshifting is an specific kind of physical illness. This moment is delivered with a flourish and one can almost sense the characters eyeing the reader, waiting for the breathless "Of course!".
Except, I (the reader) figured that out in the first couple of chapters. The first time the heroine described her early memory immediately after contact with the Creatury Shapeshifters. It was obvious. And frankly, I was never quite buying that the characters didn't make the connection.
The answer to the "How Ever Will We Induce This Life-threatening Illness?" question is answered off-stage. Annoying, stock character pops out of nowhere... Again. (She always crops up when the heroine is in need of a good motivating stimulus, then disappears until the next obstacle, I noticed) and says "I just happened to be a the hospital with my nurse-mother where a patient just happened to be dying of a germ that will do the trick, and I just happen to know how to take blood, so I pretended to be a nurse and got three vials... let's go save some Creatury Shapeshifters!"
Even if you ignore the implausibility issues of a narcissistic rich girl a) going to hang out in the hospital with her near-absent mother, b) knowing how to take blood, and c) getting hold of the necessarily medical apparatus to take no less than three vials and get them out of the hospital without anyone noticing, you're still dealing with the fact that all of this plot-central action occurred TOTALLY OFF-SCREEN.
Not only does I (the reader) have to believe it - the only evidence I'm given to back it up is that the characters told me so.
After a (well-delivered) breathless and tense scene in which the hero is only barely able to obtain human-form long enough to receive the probably-deadly dose before changing back into a Creatury Thing, he disappears.
Now, as a plot-point this works well. MORE TENSION! Yippee!!!
Except... he just stays disappeared. For months. No checking in. No hints. Not even a red-herring. The other Creatury Thing dies and our heroine goes into an emotional spiral assuming her favorite Creature has too.
Then.... without any warning the hero shows up in the last handful of pages to establish the Happy Ending. No explanation of where he's been. No plausibility-affirming details on why he was gone so long when, clearly, the antidote worked.
Now, I'm all for delivering a story-arc over three books, but when readers who aren't late-adopters like me might have to wait a year or more for the sequel, you've got to let us see what's happening in the NOW.
If you didn't catch what the problem was there, catch it here:
The Hero achieved victory OFF STAGE. (Again!)
And that victory remained unexplained. (Again!).
Strike three = You're Out.
Now go write something that lets the reader howl alongside your hero / heroine until they're writhing with the injustice of it all - and sighing with satisfaction when it's over.
Your Turn: Have you read a book recently where the ending fell flat, or one that left you breathless? Why did it work / not? (And if you have read and know which book I used for the example, just keep it under your hat. I have no desire to point fingers at specific authors or books).