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Guest Blog - A.B. Gayle - The End

It makes me very happy to be able to host a fellow Dreamspinner author, A.B Gayle, today who is blogging about a topic I find very interesting.

Endings. Where should a book end? Please feel free to comment, as we'd love some conversation on this one.

Over to A.B Gayle...

The End

Two little words, yet they can engender heated debate amongst readers.

When Anne invited me to chat about the subject of “Endings” on her blog, I read her book Cat's Quill. This proved to be fitting, because in it, one of her heroes, Cathal, states categorically: “Once a book ends, the story is finished.”

Her other hero, Tomas, counters by mentioning sequels, but Cathal repeats, “The story is finished.... Some stories take longer to tell than others. Unfortunately often the true story is rushed and not told properly, and so the endings are lost. This one was finished.”

How apt.

Often, you hear a reviewer wishing that a book ended earlier, yet at other times, there is a demand for “more”.

Red+Blue has engendered quite a few of the latter.

There is a scene near the end where Ben thinks about all the issues that still have to be dealt with, but that’s it, very brief, no indication whether they’re successful or not.
To me, showing how they overcame these issues in “Red+Blue”, would have taken away from the impact of them “getting together” which, after all is what most romances are about. The “staying together” is the harder part, and one I’d prefer to cover in a separate book: “Give+Take”.

But the responses from readers intrigued me enough to pose this question on the Dreamspinner Author’s Forum, and I received some really interesting feedback which the authors gave me permission to share here.

Liam Grey mentioned that he’s had complaints about the ending of his short story “Bonus”. As he pointed out on the forum:

“I didn’t set out to tell Mark and Jacob’s whole story, I wanted (to depict the moment) when Mark reached the breaking point that let Jacob get inside his defences. I’m glad readers liked the characters enough to want more, but I told the story I set out to tell, and I refuse to think of that as a bad thing.”

Liam hits the nail on the head. In just a few thousand words, you can’t tell the story of their whole lives. Good short stories deal with a theme and use the characters and plot to explore that theme. However, in longer novels the situation isn’t so cut and dried.

Anyway, not everyone is in agreement. Amy Lane chimed in with this comment:

“ - one of the things I’ve gotten the most crap about--and the most praise about-- is the ending of “Locker Room”. CRITICS hate it. Drives them nuts. They take off points because they don’t think I finished it. READERS ask me for a sequel-- but mostly, they seem to get why I ended it the way I did. Other WRITERS love it. They know EXACTLY why it got that ending, and they think it was an awesome decision. Whenever I catch crap about it, I remember that my fellow writers get it, and that makes me really happy.”

Another writer to receive flak on the subject was Jaime Samms who responded:

“I get more than average comments about my endings. I also tend to stop when the characters realize their place is together, but not necessarily going through the minutia of them figuring out every difficulty that faces them. That has something to do with the fact that I write a lot of really damaged guys, and those issues don’t get solved over night. It should be enough to know they have each other and a solid foundation to work on, but often readers don’t seem to think the same way I do.

“But I'm with Amy. those :”I wish you had told us more of their happy times” comments rarely come from other writers, and when they do, I listen.”

“Realize their place is together”. That’s probably why I stopped “Red+Blue” when I did.
In traditional m/f romances, this is usually the wedding or at least the proposal, but with guys the situation is different. Maybe it’s the point when they decide to be monogamous (even if they don’t state it out loud).

Is it a HEA (Happy Ever After) or a HFN (Happy For Now)? One might argue that there isn’t ever such a thing as HEA because who knows what might happen in five, ten, twenty years time. As Clare London stated in her response, “Marriage is a Work in Progress (WIP)”.

One of the most interesting contributions came from Jane Seville who said:

“This is a great discussion. As we all know, endings are super difficult. One of the most frequent criticisms I get of Zero at the Bone(after people hating D's accent) is that it had too many endings, and the ending went on too long.

“They’re not wrong, exactly. Pacing is a lot about either writing toward something, or writing away from it. All books have certain benchmarks, plot points that are crucial (I call them ‘set pieces’) that we are always writing towards, or away from. Usually we’re simultaneously writing toward something while writing away from something else. The hard part is the end, when you are only writing away from something, but not toward anything else. How much “away” can you get away with? Denouements have to be earned by what it took to get there. But how much denouement is too much? Typically readers want to know what happened next, but if it goes on too long, it starts to feel like you’re writing toward something again, then it starts to feel unfinished, or else the first part of the next story.”

I think Jane summed up the situation brilliantly from a writing perspective. “Writing away from something else.” and, if it takes too long it becomes the start of something else.

In the end, I decided not to wrap my story up with an neat little bow by including an epilogue set a year later with all these problems solved accompanied by a hot sex scene. While those sort of endings work in some cases, I’ve already found enough bridges to cross to fill eleven scenes in the sequel. In the meantime, readers have already started to think of what might happen. To me, if a book is well written, by the end, the reader should be well enough acquainted with the characters to create their own futures.

For a discussion on the place of sequels, epilogues and series please join Clare London and I over on her blog.

Thanks for letting me share space on your blog, Anne. I’ll be interested to hear what your readers think about this topic.

Edit: 22/6/12 to add link to follow up on Clare London's blog.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 18th, 2012 08:34 am (UTC)
Hi Anne

Thanks for giving me the space in your journal to discuss this topic. I'm still very much on the learning curve when it comes to writing. One I suspect will be never ending.

Jun. 18th, 2012 08:37 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks
You're very welcome. I think writing is a learning curve that spans our entire lives. It's one of the things I love about it.

Very interesting topic, and one I've had many discussions on about my own work and that of others.

*hugs back*
Jun. 18th, 2012 09:22 am (UTC)
There are some really great and thoughtful points raised in this post. I personally see each project I write as a self-contained story, even if some characters are featured in other stories. I love to read a book that has the right balance of start / middle / end, even if - as Jane (sort of) says - the start and end are on a moving staircase rather than two distinct points of a journey :). There's no rule for what's right/wrong in these "slice of life" stories - but a good author's writing makes me feel rewarded, however short or limited the scene is.
Jun. 18th, 2012 11:58 am (UTC)
Thanks Clare and thanks for letting me develop the subject on your blog when we get into the topic of sequels.

I must admit I tend to err on the side of ending too soon rather than too late. I don't like to outstay my welcome.

As you put it, a relationship is a Work in Progress and we, as authors, just give our readers a glimpse into our character's lives. I'd like to think everyone has enough clues from what we've shown to add their own futures.
Jun. 18th, 2012 09:39 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I just want to read a slice of life, rather than someone's life history, so to speak. I think as a writer, it's important to leave a story where you feel it needs to be left because it's like everything else in life, whatever you do, someone will tell you it should have been different.

Besides, that's what sequels and series are for ;)
Jun. 18th, 2012 01:39 pm (UTC)
A.B. said: "I'd like to think everyone has enough clues from what we've shown to add their own futures."

I've often been taught that when we go into a story, we are making a pact with the readers as to what we are going to deliver. In romance, the pact is this: As a writer, I'm going to put these characters through the worst hell I can devise for them, then I'm going to take away their ladder and see if they get out. The promise is that they will get out, and they'll have a happy ending. (In fantasy, the promise is the end of the quest, in space opera, it's the end of the war, in mystery, it's a solved crime, but you get the idea)
The reader's promise is that they are going to tough this journey out with my characters, through thick and thin, and gods help the writer who doesn't deliver on their end of the bargain when the reader gets there!

An diligent reader will appreciate the fulfilled promise and go away contented, and as you say, maybe even fill in the future for the characters. (That, by the way, is one place where fanfic is born.)
Jun. 18th, 2012 08:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the thought of fanfic did occur to me. It would be interesting to see in twenty or thirty years time if any of the current m/m romances have spawned their own devotees writing those.
I'm also amazed how many books and authors started out that way. "Fifty Shades of Grey" anyone? Fanfic is definitely fertile practice ground for would-be writers.
Jun. 18th, 2012 09:37 pm (UTC)
I think there are pros and cons for tying everything up in a pretty bow at the end of a story. The characters who stay with me are often the ones where I'm given a hint of a possible future rather than it spelt out. I'm not a fan of spoon feeding readers, but in saying that I like to leave my characters in a good place.

I'm looking forward to the post on Clare's blog about series etc, as that's where I'm at often as it's the way I tend to write and how my muses work.
Jun. 18th, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
Hi Anne and A.B. I've arrived here via twitter - a retweet by Dreamspinner Press.

Endings can be difficult. As a reader I want to have enough issues resolved that I don't feel the story is unfinished, but I also want to know that life goes on for the protagonist/s after the final page.

Thanks for an interesting post!
Jun. 18th, 2012 10:32 pm (UTC)
It's a very interesting topic, and a fine line often about where to end a story or not.

It's getting the right balance but being aware whatever choice you make it's not going to please everyone.

I like to think of characters having a future and a life together after the last page of a story too. Sometimes it's just getting them to a 'good place' and then leaving them to live their lives.
Jun. 18th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post! I'm the first to admit I'm a series whore, reading and writing, so I am very interested in the next installment.
Jun. 18th, 2012 10:34 pm (UTC)
Me too :)

It's an interesting topic.
Jun. 19th, 2012 01:00 am (UTC)
Victor Banis (http://www.vjbanis.com/) had problems posting here, but he did pass some interesting comments onto me via the Dreamspinner Author's forum. With his permission, I'm sharing them here.

"Sorry, I wasn't able to log on to the blog - but to my way of thinking, there is nothing worse than a novel or short where the real story ends, and then the author adds several pages more in which he tells everything that happens down the road, not only to the MCs but even, sometimes, to the minor characters. Every story has a logical ending. It's important to remember, you aren't writing someone's biography, in which case every detail, from birth to death, might be important to the statement you are trying to make about this famous (or not) person. Or, as Michener does, the story of, say, a state, though in reality when he writes about Hawaii, e.g., Hawaii really is the main character.

A short story or even a novel is not the whole picture of that person's life, it's about one chapter in it - or one problem, really. So it helps if you start out knowing what the story is you are trying to tell. Your story may be that one of the two characters isn't able to handle close personal relationships - that is the problem, essential to every plot skeleton. In a good plot skeleton, the character tries to resolve his problem, and his efforts seem only to make it worse (they will quarrel, go their separate ways, etc.), until finally, through his own efforts (and that is essential - maybe he finds God; maybe he decides to stop drinking; or he adopts a pet dog and learns about love from him) he does manage to resolve it. In that case, the ending may be the moment when he reaches out to take the other guy's hand. Even the mattress boogie may be superfluous.

The right spot for ending any story is the moment when the mc either resolves his problem or realizes what the solution is - though he may be realizing that there is no solution. In that case, you make the ending satisfactory by showing the reader that he is now in some way a wiser or better person that he was at the beginning - though that may only be his facing up to the loneliness that he has created for himself by keeping everyone at a distance. To paraphrase Eudora Welty, a story isn't about the things that happen, it's about the people they happen to. The better you know your chracters, the more obvious the right ending point becomes. In the end, it's all about the characters - if they are really alive in your mind, they will pretty much tell you everything else, including when to type The End."
Jun. 19th, 2012 04:10 am (UTC)
Very true. I've always thought that a story ends where it needs to - and if the characters want more, perhaps that's another story? Not everything has to end with the whole HEA, wandering off into the sunset. Sometimes that's not realistic and HFN is as far as the writer's journey with them for this particular story.
Jun. 19th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
Too true, Anne. I think that's the difference between creating real characters and story book characters. If they're real, nothing is permanent even though we like to think it is, but at some point in their life they were happy and nothing can ever take that away from them. That alone is something to celebrate.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 09:12 pm (UTC)
Tracking back from clarelondon.

Endings are a dificult thing. I am often surprised at where my own stories end - or maybe shocked would be a better description - sometimes I've over-ruled that moment of 'that's the end' and regretted it.

As a reader I'm beginning to hate the 'wrap-up' sex scene that serves no purpose except increasing the word count. I like to have the major points solved, or at least with possible solutions, but don't really need every i dotted and t crossed.

One of my pet peeves is where a character with a major problem - committment, self-esteem etc. - suddenly gets over it forever. My characters tend to do that to me and it really annoys me when other authors do it too.

There has to be a feeling of hope and some degree of resolution that lets me feel good when I've read the final page. But quite what that entails depends on author, characters and plot!
Jun. 22nd, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for jumping over and joining in the discussion.
But, Mara. Now you have me intrigued. You said:

"sometimes I've over-ruled that moment of 'that's the end' and regretted it."

Have you gone on too long, or ended the story to quickly? What prompted this over-rule?

And here's another question. Yous aid about resolving sharacter problems: "My characters tend to do that to me and it really annoys me when other authors do it too."

Are you referring to a tendency to solve your characters problems too quickly, because that reflects your own personality. Are you a problem solver in real life and hate to see anything suffer?

That's material for a blog post in itself! I know the rule is to dig a hole for you hero and keep digging it deeper, expanding the conflict, but my practical, common sense instinct is to keep throwing in a ladder! :)
Jun. 22nd, 2012 10:22 pm (UTC)
The regrets are from carrying on too long and including self-indulgent scenes that didn't work as well as I thought they would. That might be part of the 'writing towards something' as Jane Seville put it. I had been writing towards those scenes and didn't want to let them go when the story had ended before I got to them. But it gave the stories a messy, drawn out ending instead of a crisp one.

I tend to give my characters some problem and when it comes to the crunch instead of struggling with a juicy, angsty conflict they just roll over and say something like 'my belief that x will happen is just silly and I'm not going to let it get in the way' when 'it getting in the way' was the whole point of giving them that trait in the first place. It irritates me when I do it so finding other authors letting their characters get away with things like that is particularly annoying. Deeply held beliefs, no matter how silly, don't just go away overnight. Mutter.

But I do feel mean when I torture my characters and have to fight not to make their lives easier.
Jun. 24th, 2012 08:47 pm (UTC)
The favorite ending for me is an open one.
It's really all about the characters.
Sometimes they just don't have more they want to say, and while I'll miss them terribly, there's always the chance they can be run into via another story.
And then there's the beauty of a re-read.

A band ending to me is a bad ending when it's universal. For example, I still haven't heard anyone say they love the end to any of Dean Kootz's books. No writers I know get him.
It would be interesting to find out if there are..
There's an open ending. :3
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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