Friday, December 30, 2011

Article on ending

I thought it was just me, but this article on endings reports, "Earlier this year, researchers demonstrated that readers enjoyed stories more when they knew in advance how they would end, but the belief persists that an untimely revelation of plot points will ruin the experience."

 I do like to know the ending (I know, I'm a wuss), but I wonder if part of the pleasure of reading the perfect ending might be the surprise. That is, you're momentarily surprised, but then the rightness of the ending impresses you even more?

I don't mean twist endings. (I'm your father, Luke!)  I mean the sort of end the article talks about, that truly makes sense of the whole story, like 1984 ending with Winston professing his love for Big Brother. Will that realization be spoiled truly if you're told ahead of time, "Oh, Winston is brainwashed and ends up loving Big Brother?"

I hate coming up with last lines.  I never seem to find the right one. I often do a variation of "and they lived happily ever after" (well, not that bad).
What about you? How do you decide on a last line? Do you feel like you want to provide some philosophical coda?



Julie Harrington said...

My last line is usually tied into my opening in some direct way or the title of the book. I usually know the last line (or at least have an idea approximately of what it will be/involve) when I start a book. My problem is always first lines. Until I have that, it's like trying to write in concrete.


Edittorrent said...

J, that's a good idea-- go back to the beginning. What is some theme or keyword set up there?

Wes said...

Yep, I agree. The first line in my MS is "It wasn't supposed to be this way." (I know you don't like beginning with dialog.) And the last scene is the protag living that line.

I don't read the last chapter first, but I understand the logic behind it, espsecially for writers. I have a friend who was a screenwriter, and she reads the last chapter or act first to see if the through-line is done sufficiently to carry the reader to the conclusion.

Julie Harrington said...

I've taken to reading the endings in the store now (at least the beginning of the last chapter) because I've picked up way too many books placed in the romance section that are really more "urban fantasy" where the hero or heroine have multiple partners and don't wind up with any of them. I got frustrated, so I started reading the endings to get the vibe of if the book was really what I wanted.

green_knight said...

Hm. I read the research when it came out and I'm unconvinced. I think there are two levels to 'knowing the ending'. One enhances the experience, and that's the conviction that I'll get a positive experience, that the characters I care about (at least most of them) will have a positive ending, that the bad guys will be overcome, the mystery solved, the wrongs righted, or at least that I can believe it will happen after the end of the book. So that's the knowledge there will be a satisfying ending, and I admit to often reading the last pages of a novel if I'm not sure, to know whether everything will be ok in the end.

But the other level is knowing what happens - *who* gets to live in a multi-POV epic with high stakes, *how* the murder is solved, *who* the mysterious ghost is - and those are the things that most often get spoilered, concrete details. And that robs me of the ability to read a novel for the first time, to know only what I've read on the page, to draw my own conclusion, and to see whether my theories of what will happen and how the author will solve it are right or not. I can enjoy re-reading to the nth degree - there are books I've read dozens of times and which I *still* enjoy - but that first, cold read is special in its own way.

And sometimes - see above - I'm disappointed because the author ends the book in a misery-fest or pulls a rabbit out of the hat, and sometimes I drop a writer because I can't trust them - but I want to retain the choice. Within the framework above - trusting the writer to deliver a good reading experience - I *love* not knowing what will happen; knowing which characters will end up in what kind of relationship on page ten takes a lot of the interest away for me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Green Knight. It's often more enjoyable to read a book (genre books used to be reliable for this) where you know What will happen but not How. So the reader is torn between the knowledge that it will end well, vs the apparent threats -- and the author can pile the threats higher and higher. Otoh, if I know it's going to end well, and the author doesn't bother with any threats at all (as in Stewart's ROSE COTTAGE), I don't expect suspense or surprise, I just read along enjoying the setting and characters.

Edittorrent said...

I think I'm a real wuss. :) I like surprises, but not too surprising. Sigh. Don't write for me.