Monday, February 22, 2010

Guessing Games

Portion of another illuminated scroll. My scanner refuses to replicate gilt and gold.

The motif is based on the early 8th century Tara brooch.

The empty roundel awaits the Kingdom seal.

Have been engaged in "dunging out" -- to use my mother's expressive phrase -- my office this weekend, and have produced enough excess paper from old files to herniate my recycle guy. Am not sure just what to do with my collection of old journals and newsletters from the American Society of Criminology. Though I dislike tossing anything that resembles a book, anyone who would want them probably already has them.

This synapse-switch to a form of spacial delete (you have no idea how much floor space I've uncovered) left me without a blog topic, so I stole one.

As the result of a reader's comment about guessing the ending of a story, Raine Weaver posted an interesting question at Southern Fried Chicas:

how does a writer keep an ending fresh within the confines of genre?

We are, after all, somewhat restricted in our choices.

Readers of romance usually expect a happy-ever-after -- or a happy-for-the-time-being. Love triumphant.

Mystery readers expect the mystery to be solved and the wicked caught -- or, at least, revealed.

Readers of horror/ may expect evil to triumph - or not -- but with a price.

Readers of fantasy/SF all expect certain satifying ending rituals. A galaxy/civilization ( or a remnant of it) saved, a war won, hero/heroine bloody but unbowed.

Lines from The Mummy movie sum up expectations rather well: kill the bad guys, rescue the girl, and save the world.

I think most readers like resolution to a tale, and usually prefer a positive one. The world's too full of weeping as it is.

Seems the answer to the question revolves around not so much the What but the How.

How do you keep your endings ( which perforce must follow certain genre tropes), like Tim Horton's coffee, "always, always fresh?"


writtenwyrdd said...

Ooh, I'd love your old journals. Too bad I don't need them cluttering up my office, either!

But I might just go subscribe now...

Seeing as I just built my office in August, you'd think I'd still be organized. But, no, I have a mess of old writing projects and reference material I just KNEW I'd use some day. And I want to make room for a drafting table for doing art, which will be an even more interesting project, seeing as I need to find a place for it!

So one of my unofficial resolutions for this year is to get the old writing organized. Yeah. Don't hold your breath.

writtenwyrdd said...

Regarding endings, I have to say that while I like the HEA ending (or a 'happily for now' one), I am satisfied with an ending that, in the context of the storyline, makes perfect sense. The characters may not fulfill their goal, or someone dies, or they only get so far in their quest for whatever; but it makes emotional and logical sense to me.

You really need it to make emotional and logical sense, or it doesn't work.

And then there's the loathsome cliffhanger ending. I cannot believe the number of those that have been published in recent history for novels in a series. I just hate that!

StarvingWriteNow said...

I agree with Written--the ending needs to make sense; it may be "same old, same old" on the surface, but if you close the book with a sigh of contentment rather than rolling your eyes, that counts.

raine said...

I suppose part of the trick is to make the roller coaster ride as entertaining as possible, even if the rider is fairly certain they'll arrive safe, sound, and happy.

But as a writer, I must confess that, as a reader, I enjoy the experience of a derailment now and then. ;)
(and still waiting breathlessly, Bernita!)

archer said...

Nothing says an ending has to be fresh. It's getting there that's the big deal. Dickens's endings are almost all awful--mechanical, stilted, studied, preposterous. He kills bad guys really, really well (my favorite is Bill Sykes--Dickens kills him and his dog) but then yadda yadda yadda the switched babies and hidden wills and secret twins and just STOP it. Tom Wolfe can't write a decent ending at all, and neither can Stephen King (King is especially annoying, painting himself into colossal corners and trying to bash his way out by invoking H.P. Lovecraft). But they are three of the best writers ever to walk the face of the planet and I won't hear a word against any of them.

The only artist ever to successfully solve the problem is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Someday I would like to write an ending to a novel like like the ending of the "Jupiter" Symphony, in which he harnesses all five or six little tunes that carry the piece and sends them galloping down the final bend to a fanfare that seems to have been waiting there all along. I'd like to, but I suspect if Dickens can't do that, neither can I.

Like life and love, it's getting there that's the important part. Well, okay, mostly. One can dream.

archer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
archer said...

Come to think of it, even Shakespeare can't write a decent ending. Is there any ending sillier than the end of Romeo and Juliet? Give me a break with that stupid potion. Is there anything more contrived than the ending of Hamlet? Oops, they switched swords, OMG she has the wrong cup. Both endings are completely idiotic, and nobody minds.

Lana Gramlich said...

You just HAD to mention Timmy's, didn't you? I was just getting it out of my head, again. <:(

Whirlochre said...

If it's interruptions that keep the plot rolling along, it's resolution as ends it.

The trick (as far as I see it) is to have a resolution that ties things up nicely but which still has the flavour of an interruption.

An ending with a twist, or surprise, I suppose.

My feeling is that if this can't be achieved within the bounds of a given genre then either the genre (or its devotees) is getting tired.

Maybe I'm being naive a-blog today, but now I think about it, I'm struggling to square the concept of a novel with the concept of a genre.

Charles Gramlich said...

Endings are the hardest thing. I fight with them constnatly, and more now than I did earlier in my career. Because I want to surprise myself and it's pretty hard to do.

Bernita said...

I used to be an associate member, but let it lapse. Maybe the super kid next door who is taking criminology will take them.

Written I despise cliff-hangers! With passion and curses!
I don't mind if every single plot is not resolved, but some of them have to be.
"Emotional and logical sense" is an excellent way to descibe an effective ending.

Exactly, SWN.

Yep, Raine.
What a daughter ( admittedly not the most objective critic) as not knowing what I was going to pull out of my ass next!
But the suspense has to be justified by the ending.

Don't dare - not until everything is signed and sealed.

"Nothing says an ending has to be fresh. It's getting there that's the big deal."
Archer, I mostly agree.

While fond of Shakespeare, I never liked Romeo and Juliet, am irritated with Hamlet, and don't get me going on King Lear. Tragedies are, I suspect, a thing apart, with different readerly expectations, and within that context of loss and the morality of it, those endings may satisfy.

Oops. Sorry, Lana!

Bernita said...

"The trick (as far as I see it) is to have a resolution that ties things up nicely but which still has the flavour of an interruption."
As an unexpected solution, Whirl?
I think that works, delightfully in fact.

We become too aware/too sensitive of cliche, perhaps, Charles. And it inhibits.
Trouble is, the plot, in part, tends to dictate endings.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

After discussions yesterday with our very own Wyrdd, I came up with the perfect ending for SCAR. I had a climax, of course, but no END. No satisfaction.

It started with illness. It will end with a funeral.

Bernita said...

I do like symmetry/congruity in an ending, Betsy. Gives me a little shiver.

And Wyrdd is wonderful.

BernardL said...

I believe incorporating humor into the ending always leaves a freshness behind.

Natasha Fondren said...

I confess I never think of making my ending fresh. I'm too busy mining my story for every loose thread. And there is a certain portion of readers who... tend to sometimes not totally get the ending, even when it's obvious. So my endings are only a step away from:


But yeah, I do like things to wrap around to the beginning, to have a "full circle" feel, to bring out bits from within the story.

hampshireflyer said...

Ooh, what are the chequerboard patterns? If they were five-by-five (and assuming they're as red and white as they look), they'd be part of the Croatian flag...

Angie said...

What everyone else said, basically. The ending itself doesn't have to be fresh, as in New-N-Different. If you can think of a different ending which still fits the genre and satisfies readers, that's cool, but that's not really necessary. It's the journey to get to the ending that needs to have something new and fresh about it. Although with a comfort read, we don't even need that. Sometimes we really do want more of same, and something fresh and different will be disappointing. [wry smile]

With romances, for example, the essential paths are pretty well worn, and there's a limited number of common tropes or gimmicks used, but readers enjoy getting to know these specific characters. If your people feel like individuals, and they're people the readers feel like they'd enjoy knowing and hanging out with, that's most of the battle; that's where a writer needs to spend her new-and-different efforts. The plot is supposed to be pretty much like every other romance plot at the heart of it, and the ending had better be like every other romance ending or it's not a genre romance.


Bernita said...

And might well hook readers for the next book, Bernard.

Frankly, Natasha, I prefer that kind of ending. There comes a time in any story when the danger and adventure is over and doubts resolved.

Alex, the chequerboards are actually red and black with gold centers on the reds. Blame my cheap scanner for misleading your eyes.
I don't know their particular heraldic significance in this instance.

Absolutely, Angie. I was confused by the reader's comment that Raine quoted at SFC's.
My reaction was of course you've seen this type of ending before... sans dire...but I had to wonder if something had escaped me.

laughingwolf said...

more great art by the daughter! love that kinda stuff...

as for endings, i prefer a good twist, but not always able to come up with one, so just try to [mostly] resolve the tale... somehow

Bernita said...

She'll be so pleased you like it, LW.

It just occurred to me that I have no idea how to classify my own style of ending. I do prefer to kill off bad guys though and have the good survive, so I guess that makes them conventional.

writtenwyrdd said...

After thinking about it today, I have to add that an ending that doesn't end, but carries on with wrap ups (aka an epilog) is frequently TMI (too much information)! It's the author not trusting the reader to assume things went well from then on, or the author failing to wrap stuff up in the story itself.

Of course, there are always exceptions.

Chris Eldin said...

Beautiful scroll!
I am confined because part of my writing philosophy is to make kids feel good when they've finished reading. To make them think back to passages and laugh. So, yes, I have to have a happy ending. You're making me think now, because with both books I have written, the kids gets the dog. Hmmm... I'd never noticed that before!!!!

Bernita said...

Written, I've sometimes thought such epilogues are caused by editors rather than writers.

Thank you, Chris. I'm all for your philosophy, as well as the kids getting the dog.

Demon Hunter said...

My endings aren't always happy. My current WIP will have a positive ending with a little salt thrown in a wound. ;-)

Gabriele C. said...

History doesn't always end happily- or even bittersweet. Though I try to have at least some of the fictional characters survive the mess. ;)

Bernita said...

I'm inclined to throw a little salt myself, dear Demon. There is always a cost.

Gabriele, I'm always surprised when history does throw out a happy ending! History is, I think, mostly about survival.

jason evans said...

I'm thinking that the getting there needs to be the fresh part. Like you said, we've already read all the endings. And I agree. People want an uplift, not a big downer.

Bernita said...

Jason, I suppose survival itself - in some cases - constitutes a victory, but I prefer a little more than that.

Steve Malley said...

Hmmm, just thinking about favorite tales and their endings, more than a little surprised at how many of them more or less shamble to a halt.

Archer's right: the well-written ending was never Dickens's strong suit. Oddly, his friend Wilkie Collins was quite a bit better...

Bernita said...

Off hand, Steve, the best of fairy tale endings I can think of, is Tamlane. The obligatory conclusion follows the crisis closely.