Saturday, March 24, 2012

The art of leaving things not all wrapped up.

I was contemplating how to make a happy ending of this romance novella, and of course, this being a romance novella, the young couple end up together and happy. But what about the other conflicts?

Does a happy ending mean everything is all wrapped up in the ending? That the conflicts presented at the beginning of the story are all resolved happily?

I'm thinking no.  Much of the "contrivance" and "deus ex machina" that annoy us as readers will come from trying to resolve every conflict happily. That is, it's not like a god needs to intervene to make two young people fall in love-- that's the way of nature. But to make a poor person rich? To heal the lame leg? If these are not the main plot-- where the protagonist works the whole book to resolve this conflict or achieve the aim-- then it's going to take an outside event, like the death of a rich aunt or the charity of a miraculous surgeon, to solve that problem.

In fact, having every conflict neatly resolved, especially by miracle, could cast doubt on your entire ending. So what MUST be in the ending? Probably the resolution of the main plot, the genre plot (those are usually the same--- a murder investigation is usually the main plot of a mystery, and a romance is usually the main plot of a romance) should happen. (Satisfactory, not necessarily happy.) But the other conflicts? If they aren't resolved BY the plot, by the action of the main characters, then maybe they shouldn't all be resolved.

For example, I am working on a romance where the young man is poor, and this is a real problem. But the heroine decides she loves him anyway, thus resolving the romantic plot. Now I really think if his aunt dies and leaves him a million pounds, that will render irrelevant the heroine's sacrifice of her plans for a wealthy marriage. So I think I'm just going to leave him poor. Okay, he's a poet, so I'll let some success at least glimmer at the end, but poetic greatness has so seldom meant wealth! So they'll be poor but happy. Works for me. :)

So when you think about your own stories, what do you think must be resolved satisfactorily? What would you leave unresolved?


Amalie Berlin said...

Very well said and I couldn't agree more. I read a romance last year with not only a happy ever after, but a super-mega-happy ever after--after that all the personality- and character-defining obstacles and sad events in backstory were given a happy ending too. Yay, hero's dead siblings weren't really dead! Yay, heroine's mother(dead set on daughter marrying a man with a title) is happy because they discover hero DID have one in his home country...

Up until the last 5 pages of the book, I loved it. It had a such a great concept, and a non-traditional hero fighting to regain the use of his legs after war, and it was just a wonderful story. I wanted to rip off the last few pages of the book to make it end where it should've ended.

The happy-ending sigh of relief at the end was crushed beneath the absurd bootheel of super-mega-happy ever after.

Edittorrent said...

Amalie, I was just consulting about a book ending-- I think I'll blog about it-- and there were three unresolved issues at the penultimate chapter. One is resolved in the climax (yes, they win), but the other two, a "life journey decision" and a "romantic choice", and I was all, let's wrap it all up! He takes the job and proposes to the girl!

And it all seemed very pat. Like you said, a super-mega-happy ending! Good idea to back off! The main plot is resolved. Everything else doesn't have to work out too. Leave something for the rest of his life (or a sequel :).

Good example.

1000th.monkey said...

...unless you're Haruki Murakami...

Like, the murder in 'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle' never gets resolved and is pretty much completely forgotten after the first chapter.

But I agree, when things are wrapped up too neatly, I get annoyed and usually don't read more of that author's works.

Jenny Brown said...

I like to end my books with the characters having learned to appreciate qualities in their lovers that at first appeared to be their weaknesses.

Loving someone because you think they're perfect is a bad way to start out a marriage as our mates don't stay perfect for very long.

Terry Odell said...

I prefer that things be "almost happy" or "Potentially happy." I really don't like those neatly-wrapped up stories, especially when there's an epilogue that shows how it all worked out. I write romantic suspense, so I do think you have to wrap up the mystery/suspense, and the hero and heroine have to reach some "this relationship could work" phase, but no miracles. In fact, I'd left the ending open enough in my first book that I went and wrote a sequel, following up as h/h had to iron out kinks in the relationship. (Nobody told me that wasn't "allowed" in romance.)

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

I actually had my MS rejected by an agent recently because I DIDN'T end with the two main characters' romantic tension resolved. It's not a romance, but an urban fantasy revolving around a serial killer case.

The two characters in question are teetering on the brink of a romantic relationship, which I'm letting them develop in the sequel, but that was the agent's main stumbling block to offering representation!

I refused to throw them together until they had their AHA! moment in the second book. I did resolve the main plot, which was, duh!, the serial murder investigation. I'm glad I stuck to my guns about it, after reading this. Now I just have to get an agent to agree with me!

Edittorrent said...

1000th, I remember when Wm. Faulkner was writing the Big Sleep screenplay (small world :), he couldn't figure out from the story who committed the first murder, so they called Raymond Chandler and asked, and he said something like, your guess is as good as mine. :)
That's is really artistic not wrapping things up.

Joan Leacott said...

I read a book that all the way through set up truly believable GMC for an unusual and satisfying HEA. But in the last five pages, everything was turned on its head, all that hard work was thrown out the window and a standard, predictable, boring HEA was tossed in. I've never read that author again.

I like loose ends to be tied, but it's not necessary that they be tied with a happy-bow.

I read another book where the goal was for the hero to reconcile with his dying father. The hero worked hard to make it happen, but it didn't. The old guy died miserable and alone, just like in real life. That's still satisfying.

As always, an interesting discussion.

Alicia Rasley said...

Mittens, you know, I was just thinking that the way to keep readers coming back is to have a series where the central couple are friends or allies, but not lovers, at the end of the first book.

The readers would be begging for another book where they'd get together.

I've been thinking a lot about how writers get "repeat business." Yours sounds like a good method!

green_knight said...

I think you need to resolve a conflict, not annul it. If the conflict would have gone away if the hero had only waited six months, anything he did to resolve it (or his friends did to resolve it) feet a little bit superfluous. Silly heroine, sneaking out in the mornings dressed up as a boy to learn bookkeeping so she'll be able to help him better. She could just have had lie-ins and waited for his aunt to die!

Ideally, hero and heroine would both work together to solve the problem, and in the end, the problem will be gone because they both made contributios. Deus-ex-machina is much less interesting for the reader.

Aria said...

Hi :)
First of all, I love your blog, as a young writer I find it very useful and I do hope it will help me publish my book.

I must say I'm very happy to have found this post, as I often get into arguments with a friend (we're both hopefully-soon-to-be-published writers) about the endings of our novels and stories. He's the one who always wants to get everything solved and give his characters the best endings possible. I am the one thinking the important parts must be explained, but there can still be some unsolved problems or things left for others to deal with after the MC's story ends.
This actually brings me to a question I hope to get an answer to - someone once told me that publishers like happy endings, is it true?
I must say I'm not in particular a fond of them, as I don't think everyone in books (just as it's in real life) have to get what they deserved. And it fits with my way of writing, I believe, and I think it's far more important to write an ending that's simply right one for the story (the logical one, or the only one that simply feels real) than to write one people will like.. I mean, it's great if I get the reader to like my character - but then I'd rather like him to cry over the character's dead, than to be happy because he lived for a while and then realize it doesn't seem realistic..
Forgive me if I'm a bit over-enthusiastic about it, I got used to explaining my points on this matter with a hint of anger, lol