Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Getting to the end

 As usual, I loved Douglas's Monday blog. When my turn on Type M looms and I have no idea what to blog about, I read the blogs immediately before mine and very often, presto, an idea. Or at least something to spin off of.

He was talking about starting points. That blank page that confronts us authors at the beginning of our 300-page journey into the unknown. Full of possibilities, secrets to be unearthed, and terrors to navigate. Then he described on how he navigates the journey.There is no right way to write a book, no shortcuts or guidebooks that guarantee an easy, successful trip, despite their promises. And if there were, what a bore that would be. Writers are often asked two questions: where do we get our ideas, and what is our writing process? People are interested to learn that ideas do not land on our page perfectly formed but rather they are spun from snippets here and there – a conversation overheard on a bus, a news in brief in the newspaper – created much as an oyster forms a pearl from an insignificant grain of sand. 

Our process is whatever works for us to get from that blank page to the words "the end". Some writers are compulsive outliners, others sketch out the high points and major twists ahead of time, but leave the details for first draft. As incredible as it sounds, a great many simply jump in and start to write, with only the vaguest idea what the story is about and who is in it, but not the faintest idea where it's going or how it will end. I am mostly of this latter school, knows as pantsers. As in we fly by the seat of our pants. This is a wild-west style that allows the imagination the greatest freedom but also brings the most terrors. Douglas is quite right - when terror strikes, you have to trust yourself. I usually remind myself that I have written xxx number of books before and in each case have managed to figure out how to end them.

Which brings me, finally, to the point I was going to make in this blog. The ending point. If you and your editor have done a decent job, the end should be neat and only as long as it needs to be to finish the story. I don't mean "tied up in a perfect little bow" neat. I mean it should answer the crucial question(s) posed in the book and tie up most but not all the loose ends. If too many questions are left dangling, the reader feels frustrated and unfulfilled, but if every little question is answered, there is nothing left for the reader to ponder and answer on their own. It all feels too clever and contrived. It also leaves the reader with no curiosity about what may happen in future books.

In most mystery stories, the crucial question(s) to answer is Who dunnit, and will justice be served? It's a rare mystery that doesn't at least tell the reader at the end who the killer is. In most cases, that would leave the reader throwing the book across the room. Very occasionally, the author leaves a hint of doubt and a hint of a possible alternative, so that the reader can weigh the evidence for themselves. Risky, but intriguing! 

The question of "Will justice be served" leaves a lot more leeway. Sometimes this means the killer is not only revealed, but the evidence exists that will convict them. But there may be times when, on balance, justice is served by letting the killer go free. Mysteries that explore that vast gray area between right and wrong, between good and evil, are the most compelling and meaningful of all. When the reader asked themselves, What would I do?


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