Posted by : Sherri Cornelius Wednesday, December 8, 2010

As an author--as a human, actually--there’s no way to guarantee a reader’s expectations will intersect with my offering. So many things are out of my control, and I just can’t know what makes a reader like or dislike certain things about my book. It’s like that Aerosmith song, "Same Old Song and Dance":

Get yourself a cooler lay yourself low
Coincidental murder with nothing to show
The judge’s constipation will go to his head
And his wife's aggravation, you’ll soon end up dead

I just finished a book wherein the ending came way too soon for me. I was so disappointed, because I thought I had a whole ‘nother chapter to go, judging by the number of pages left. So I finish a chapter, anticipating the “wrap-up” that should begin as I turn the page, and find instead discussion questions and an excerpt of the author’s novel. It was over. Like that.

I understand the need to market the next book, but this actually made a black mark against the author in my mind. Even though the book was fantastic the ending soured it for me. Because of where I expected it to end, I was reading that final chapter in a different way than the author intended. She knew it was the end. I did not.

I re-read that last chapter as a last chapter, just to see if maybe I’d missed a change in pacing or rhythm, the subtle signs that the book was ending, and sure enough, they were there. I think the ending was still weak, but it definitely would have been stronger for me if I’d had the right expectations.

Is my reader in a loveless marriage, or did her boyfriend just say he loved her for the first time? Did the cover promise something I didn’t include in the book, or is the reader a writer himself with his own ideas of how to do things? Did my reader just get the death penalty?

You just never know.

{ 5 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. What could they have done differently? If your publisher wants to do the same thing with your novel (include a preview chapter and questions) you'll have to give them a heads up!

  2. The ending should fit the story. That you had to go back and look for those signs indicates to me that the ending probably wasn't as strong as it should have been. Not that it was bad, just not strong. I've found that in a lot of the literary genre stuff I've read. It's almost like the writer wants to leave the reader at this weird ambiguous point - either to "draw their own conclusions" (in which case if I'm doing my own story ending what do I need the writer for?) or perhaps as a "here's where part 2 might begin."

    Strong endings, good endings, make for a great story, because that's the last impression a writer leaves in the reader's mind.

    Love the Aerosmith tie-in. :D

  3. I thought you would, Fal! lol Well, you know, the ending wasn't trying to be ambiguous or anything. The problem was that most of the book was filled with the same sort of emotional punch she used at the end, so I think to make the ending stronger she might have carried the story a bit further. The girl was about to graduate high school, which would have been a good signal for the end, except how cliche is that for an ending? So I guess she was trying to avoid that.

    Sarah, I don't really know what the publisher could have done to avoid that. Perhaps making the edges of the extra pages a different color would have done it, but then the aesthetic of the book would have been compromised. Oh, they might have put a big flourishy graphic under the final sentence to signal the end (because THE END is just too gauche :).

  4. Oh great, now I have so many Aerosmith songs running through my head. "I'm BAACK in the saddle agaiiin....I'm BAAAAAACK!"

    Ok, thanks for letting me get that out.

    Sherri, it seems to me that even if they'd put the "big flourishy graphic" (Haha!) at the end, it still would have felt abrupt, because obviously they didn't pace the ending correctly. If the story arc is correct, (assuming there is a "correct" story arc) then you should have felt that ending coming. That's one of the biggest reasons for using story arc, isn't it? Reader's don't like a lot of information thrown on them to start the story, and once taken for the ride, they don't appreciate being pushed out of the vehicle at 40 mph!

  5. It would have felt abrupt no matter, you're right. I'm thinking in a perfect world, the publisher would take those kinds of things into consideration when packaging a book and not make it harder on me. :)


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