Monday, February 20, 2012

Last, But Not Least

by Kathleen Ernst

(Note - I wrote this before heading out on a trip, not knowing that Lois would address the same issue last week. Scroll down and check out her take on things too!)

At the recent Love Is Murder conference (“when wine and chocolate aren’t enough”), I participated in a panel discussion about endings. As I prepared, revisiting some of my favorite books, one of the things that struck me was a fundamental choice that writers with a series underway make about closure in each particular book.

≈ The End ≈

The crime is (almost) always solved by the last chapter. What may or may not be solved is whatever emotional dilemma is driving the protagonist through the series.

Some authors choose to end each book on an “all is well” note. Life may not be perfect, but the protagonist is in a good place. Readers who care about this character can close the book feeling content, reassured that all is well. Yes, she’ll surely get in trouble again, but there’s no need to worry about her right now.

Other authors do just the opposite. The crime is solved, but some final plot twist knocks the protagonist for an emotional loop. Readers are now anxious all over again, concerned for the main character’s well-being.

When I finished Old World Murder, the first book in my Chloe Ellefson series, I decided to go with the latter option. I’d heard that the second book in a seris can be the hardest to launch (the theory is that they lack the flash of a new project, but have yet to develop a true following). I hoped to entice readers by placing an emotional hook in the last line. Just when Chloe has finally turned a corner, leaving behind a painful episode…surprise! The past reaches out to grab her again. Is she strong enough to resist this time? Stay tuned.

The second Chloe book, The Heirloom Murders, addresses the question raised at the end of Book 1. This time, I gave the final scene to Roelke McKenna, a local cop who very much wants to win Chloe’s affection. And this time the twist moves in the opposite direction: just when he has given up, and concluded that a romantic relationship with Chloe is beyond his grasp…surprise! He receives an unexpected spark of hope. Is it enough? Can it happen? Stay tuned.

Either approach, of course, offers both opportunities and risks. We writers strive to comfort, but not bore; intrigue, not but annoy.

What do you consider a satisfying ending?


Lois Winston said...

Kathleen, obviously great minds think alike! ;-)

Darrell James said...

Nice post, Kathleen. I like to end stories on a bittersweet note. The proatgonist's goals have been fulfilled in a way that's somewhat different from what they had planned (bitter) but leaving them able to carry on with a greater level of acceptance (sweet).

Kathleen Ernst said...

Lois - Oh, yeah.

Darrell - That's a nice way to conceptualize it!

Dru said...

I like a happy ending but I also like that hook that makes me say "you can't end it now".

Robin Allen said...

I never know what's going to happen in a book until I write it, so I leave my endings open to go either way. A subplot or relationship looks like it's resolved by the end of the book, but it wouldn't be a suprise to the reader if things went in another direction in the next book.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Dru - that sounds good to me! I know that feeling...some of my favorite authors do that to me every time.

Robin - I don't outline in advance either. I often don't know exactly how the crime will be resolved. Usually somewhere mid-book I get an idea about the last page that gives me some new energy!