Thursday, November 06, 2014

The End

A few days ago, Charlotte wrote about how disappointing it is to read a book that has no particular end. (check it out here)

One of the best pieces of advice I ever saw on the subject is this: A great beginning will make a reader want to read your current book. A great ending will make her want to read your next book. No matter what “genre” it is.

One thing I believe makes a mystery novel satisfying is that usually justice is done in the end, which doesn’t always happen in real life. Of course, justice doesn’t necessarily mean that the killer is caught, or goes to jail, or is even punished. Justice is when the “right” thing happens. Consider Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Mark Twain said that the reader wants good things to happen to the good, and for the evil to get their comeuppance. (I paraphrase).

Regular readers of mystery novels are extremely savvy. They know all the common mystery writer tricks. And a good mystery writer knows that they know. I quite enjoy trying to anticipate what the reader is going to think, and to write in little twists and turns that play wit the reader’s mind. How do I lead the reader astray while giving him all the right clues? He’s learned by reading many mystery novels that the killer is seldom the most likely suspect, nor is the killer often a recurring character in a series.

Should I therefore have my killer be the most likely suspect or a series regular? That technique certainly works for George R.R. Martin. When I read a Game of Thrones book, I am really anxious and concerned that one of my favorite characters will meet a grisly end, because Martin spares no one.

I’m always looking for the least likely character to be the killer, and in one book I wanted the to be killer to be someone who absolutely could not have done it. Yet it has to be plausible. And all that is not easy to pull off. Ask anyone who has ever tried to do it.

I always enjoy some moral ambiguity, as well. Should a murderer get away with it, even if the victim deserved it? Maybe he did, but I wouldn’t imply that if the murdered guy is bad everyone in the book should just say, “good riddance”, and go on their merry way.

When I begin a book, I usually know where I want the story to go. It never ends up there. Where it does end up is as big a surprise to me as to anyone. It’s usually better than I had planned. I feel like if I can surprise and delight myself with an ending that fits perfectly, I’m on the right track. The reader may even want to pick up my next book.

On another subject, I am the latest  author to be the lucky subject of an interview on Barbara Leavy's Crime and Culture Forum. I hope you'll have a look. Every human being stands at the apex of a history lived by his or her own relatives . It was  interesting for me to discover that much the story of America that I learned in school was created by my very ancestors. That discovery led to the creation of my Alafair Tucker series. Click here for the link.


Terry Shames said...

In my last book I could not nail the ending. I drove me crazy. I turned it over to my editor, hoping that he would have a suggestion. But it was my agent who finally pointed out that in one scene I had skipped over an important point. I went back to fix it and ended up with a very different ending (same villain, different way of ending). Thank goodness for those who read and critique!

As for the justice of an ending, I always like to have a separate theme in my books that may be less easy to resolve. And I like to read those books, too. I think it adds depth.

Donis Casey said...

Terry, I always end up with a different ending that I thought I would when I started out and it's never easy to find just that perfect, logical, and yet tricky solution. Thank goodness for our beta readers and their good suggestions!