I-can’t-get-no-

phrenologyHow satisfying should a novel’s ending be?

Wondering that because Agent X, who made the most generous R&R offer for CHERRY, had a problem with the ending of my book.

She wrote:

I think maybe you have to work on making this more impactful, building it up so that it’s really a sock in the gut when it ends. You don’t have to tie up all loose ends neatly, but the ending still needs to be satisfying (snip)

My emphasis there, and a really embarrassing admission: the first time I read that bolded part, my first thought was, REALLY, Agent X? Cuz I ain’t buying it.

Then I read her comments again. And again. And I started thinking, All right, kk, surely Agent X doesn’t mean ‘satisfying ending’ as in, ‘nice little wrap up,’ or ‘HEA.’ So what does she mean?

I have some ideas about novel endings. An ending needs to make sense when considered within the context of the story and characters. It needs to be plausible. It must . . . how can I put this? . . . carry the weight, maybe. In other words, it has to do the story and characters justice.

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t mind a satisfying ending. I just don’t require one. What I do require is an ending that fits the rest of the book, but maybe that’s what Agent X is telling me.

CHERRY can be an uncomfortable novel to read. It was an uncomfortable novel to write. There are scenes in that novel that still make me flinch. And during the months I wrote (and revised) the manuscript, I had to do some major soul-searching, deciding how far I wanted to take it; how far I was willing to go.

After careful consideration, I think Agent X is asking me do that again: think about the ending of CHERRY, ask myself those same questions. She believes I should take the ending further. She believes the story needs it. She won’t be satisfied with anything less.

Neither should I.

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17 thoughts on “I-can’t-get-no-

  1. Hmmmmm.

    I have asked myself this many times because my story also had that kind of ending. It’s pretty much a sharp cut off. And I thought ok, but I like that cut off, but the truth is, people don’t, I think. After looking at my WIP for a long time, I realised resolution can come in many forms. One of them was “What does this ending mean to my characters?”

    I knew what it meant to me, but what did it mean for them? With stories that have a sharp cut off, I liken them to days. Our days follow no story, even if WE have a story. But each day has a sharp cut off. Sometimes you feel as though nothing has been gained or lost. But then, by the end of the week, you have more of a beginning middle and end. What have a learnt? What would my week have been like if x,y and z happened?

    Sometimes things change. Sometimes nothing changes for shit. Sometimes it’s someone else we’ve changed. In Cherry, your two MC’s stay relatively the same in terms of what they are doing by the END of the novel. But in my reading of your main character, throughout the story, he does some pretty bat shit crazy things. He’s being affected and has been affected. So has Cherry. They’re never going to forget each other…

    …all you have to do (I hope) is decide WHY that is and the resolution should follow.

    For my story (where my two MC’s went their separate ways) I asked: What did my two MC’s mean to each other? And what do their lives mean now that they will never see one each other again??

    As it turned out, MC1 found out he was pretty much a wimp but at the same time managed to claim his identity now that he wasn’t under anyone’s shadow.
    While MC2 realised he’d made some serious mistakes regarding his friend and now had to deal with the consequences…alone.

    It’s not a happy ending but with realisation comes resolution. As long as I’ve given the reader enough to play with, what my characters do from then on out is up to the readers imagination.

    Hope my rambling has helped.

    • Not rambling, Shay Dee.

      I replied to your post last night and somehow lost what I wrote. It was good, too, dang it.

      What I said first, if I remember correctly, is that I think it’s great that you were able to look at your ms objectively and analyze it, figure out what you could do to make it a better novel. The questions you asked yourself were great questions. I understand what you are saying there.

      You write: For my story (where my two MC’s went their separate ways) I asked: What did my two MC’s mean to each other? And what do their lives mean now that they will never see one each other again?

      In your novel, which doesn’t end on a happy note, realization is followed by resolution. So you expand on that ending a little bit, give the readers enough to play with and then leave it up to their imagination.

      Therein lies my problem, Shay Dee. CHERRY is written within specific parameters, beginning the day Dave meets Cherry and ending the day Cherry was going to take himself out. A year in the life. Nothing before that, and nothing after. It’s Dave’s journal. He writes, and then he stops.

      What happened? I leave that open to interpretation; a little hopeful, but ambiguous. And I know some people will be dissatisfied with that. I know some readers will want closure there. They’ll want to know what really happened. But that’s the point: sometimes, you don’t know. For me, the story doesn’t need resolution. But it ends on a revelation for David Brandt. His eyes are wide open, there’s no turning back from that. What he does with that, what he does after that, is anybody’s guess. That’s what I leave up to the reader’s imagination. They can decide based on everything they read, everything they know about David Brandt and Cherry, everything Brandt told them in that journal.

      I don’t know. Right now, I think the ending is the way it should be. Maybe I can punch it up somewhat, so that ending is more of a punch in the gut. I’m thinking about it. I don’t want to change the end but maybe I can enhance it.

      Anyway, thank you so much for your comments and for sharing your thoughts relative to CHERRY, and to your own novel. And thanks for reading CHERRY, Shay Dee. Really appreciate that.

      xoxo kk

      • All what I said up there, that’s only for consideration IF you want to end your story with resolution. Above all, don’t f**k up CHERRY trying to give it a a Hollywood type Jerry Springer “Final Thought”. At the end of the day, you’ve clearly established CHEERY is a messed up novel. No point in trying to have the ending make more sense out of an organically crazy story. That’s Luke me trying to make sense out of what happened today. Sometimes stuff is too random, that just ARE.

        Like the novel LOADED. There was no lightbulb ending, it was just the story of a day in the life of some jacked-up closeted gay kid. It was awesome, it was fly on the wall and it had no “ending”. It just was.

        If your gut likes your “non-ending” then I say keep it because maybe it’s just that kind of story…

          • No apologies required, Shay. Not the way I type. 🙂

            Is CHERRY a messed-up novel? Again, open to interpretation. Clearly, the mc is messed-up and the kid may very well be. What does Brandt say? “Since I met that kid, my life’s been a fucking three-ring circus.” Events transpire, for sure, and Brandt tries to make sense of chaos, but at the end of the day, there has to be a story there. Even if it’s an organically crazy one.

            As for the ending of CHERRY, my gut–which, btw, I am discussing at length, of late, and which is still exhibiting the effects of post-hysterectomy ‘swelly belly’ 🙂

            Uhh, what was I saying there? Oh yeah. My ending. I wanted to say that my gut is telling me not to fuck with it. Not saying I won’t fuck with stuff prior to the ending. But like I said, I have to give that some serious thought. Today I started rewriting the mom cpt., folks who’ve read CHERRY will undoubtedly be jumping for joy.

            :p

            That novel LOADED sounds interesting, I’ll try to remember that one. Oh, btw, no typo apologies needed, Shay. Not the way I type.

            xo kk

  2. I think satisfying has different meanings for different readers. I loved Gone Girl’s ending, many hated it. I thought it was satisfying because it made sense for the characters as they had been developed throughout the novel–so that’s the lens I would use for Cherry. What is the ending that makes the most sense for the two MCs, and their relationship with each other as it built throughout the mss?

    • You raise some good points, mrs fringe. I didn’t read GONE GIRL but I saw the movie and I agree with you, the ending was the right ending. Horrible, but it fit everything that had occurred prior to that.

      Looking at CHERRY through that lens, I think the same holds. There was a sense of dread that builds, that clock ticking. Then time runs out. My characters move through that trajectory in ways that fit their personalities, I think. Dave barrels through and Cherry kind of floats through, there and then gone, leaving Dave behind, but not unchanged.

      You ask, What is the ending that makes the most sense for the two MCs, and their relationship with each other as it built throughout the mss? I believe the ending I wrote is the ending that has to be, based on who Dave is, and who Cherry is. Their relationship was unexpected, and complex, and maybe doomed. But maybe not. Like I told Shay Dee, I left ambiguity there, a smidgeon of hope there. So did I do the right thing?

      I don’t know, mrs fringe. Shit.

      But I shall think about what you wrote there. Thank you for weighing in, as always.

      xoxo kk

  3. I think writers need some kind of “stages of receiving critique” outline (not unlike the erstwhile Stages of Grief), where at first you’re like “pfft, no” and then start to think “well, mayyyybe, but I need to keep….” and then finally (maybe, not always justified) you’re like “YES. Let’s DO THIS.”

    • That would be good. And believe it or not, there was a point when I thought CHERRY was done, and then realized–from crits received from some really, really wise people–that I had to go in and change it. Significantly. I’m glad I did, I know it’s a much better novel.

      Now here I am again, looking at CHERRY with a critical eye, based on feedback from Agent X and other people. They raise valid points, which I’m addressing. And I’m considering that ending, trying to do so objectively. Ultimately, though, I’m going to have to follow my gut on this one. Maybe to my detriment, I don’t know.

      I guess we’ll see.

      Thank you, Jen.

      ❤ kk

  4. I came here from Twitter.

    I agree with your conclusion to the post. “Satisfying” doesn’t equal “comfortable,” and I think that’s an important thing to remember. To be satisfying, an ending doesn’t have to tie everything in a bow, but it does have to, literally, provide satisfaction.

    As a reader, I appreciate an ending that makes me go, “Yes, dammit. This is the only real way it could have ended. Anything else would be lesser.”

    An ending, as you said, should do the story justice.

    • Louis, thank you for coming here from Twitter. How cool is that?

      Your comments about endings echo my thinking about CHERRY. What you said there, about reading an ending and thinking it’s the only way it could have ended, the proper way, validates my decision. I took everything into account before I went that route, everything. And when I laid it all out there, I could see but one path for my story to go, a singular end to it. The ending I wrote encompasses the heart and soul of my book, stays true to it. Does it justice, like you say.

      Appreciate you stopping by and offering your two cents, Louis. Hope to see you around.
      ~kk

  5. Hmm, yea I don’t think she meant satisfying as in HEA. More like what you said about carrying the weight and doing justice to the characters. Something that shows us how the characters hhave changed throughout the journey? Something that leaves your readers…well, satisfied. 😀

    • Something that shows how they’ve changed. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that’s what I want to say. I want to say, READ THE BOOK. You can see how Dave has changed if you just READ THE BOOK. His journal entries SHOW how he’s changed. His thoughts, which he transcribes on paper, REVEAL how he’s changed. READ THE BOOK and you will be satisfied because you will understand how my main character was affected by that kid, how he has changed. Not a totally different man, but a better man. READ THE BOOK, that’s what I want to say.

      Of course, you did read the book, didn’t you Putster?

  6. Just to be a fly in the ointment and look at this from a different perspective. Is the agent someone whose opinion you respect? Have you read other books they’ve represented and been satisfied with the endings or do they feel contrived? Agents are generally far more aware of reader expectation than we writers are. To remain true to your original vision is definitely something to strive for, but one needs to do so and still meet the demands of agents, editors and readers in a given genre. An agent will promote a novel she thinks she can sell to an editor, an editor will put forward a novel they thing will sell well for the publisher. Sadly, that’s just the reality of publishing.

    • Hi Linnea.

      Funny, just this morning, I received an email that echoed what you’re saying. A friend of mine, an agented writer, found herself in a similar situation: facing a major rewrite of her novel to increase its salability. She told me that, if I want my novel sold, I’d best be prepared to heed what Agent X is telling me, as she is aware of the market, etc.

      Yes, that is the reality of publishing. I am now in the business of figuring out how best to sell my book.

      Can I accomplish that while still staying true to my vision for CHERRY? I have to believe I can. I shall continue to make the revisions that are clearly needed, and work on those aspects of my novel that require something more. No small feat but then, who said this was gonna be easy?

      xoxo kk

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