Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, July 10, 2010

More Bad Endings

by Sariah S. Wilson

How I hate stupid endings.

I know I've blogged about it quite a bit, but it really and truly does drive me up the wall.

If I'm going to spend my time and money on your book, I feel like the least you can do is give me a satisfactory ending.

I'm a fan of happy endings (hence, the romance writing), but I'll go along with you on the ride as long as the ending isn't dark and depressing. I have enough real life of my own, thank you. I don't get into books to walk away feeling miserable. I want to be happy that I read your book, happy that I invested in it. I will not feel that way if you screw up the ending.

My family has always teased my mother about reading the last few pages of a book before she'll buy it. She told me once that the reason she does this is to make sure it will turn out the way she wants it to. If it doesn't, she won't buy it.

I would hate to spoil the ending of books for myself, but I'm geetting to the point where I think I just may have to start doing what my mom does.

Right before our vacation, I went shopping at a local outlet mall for some clothes for the kids (swimsuits and stuff). There was a bookstore there, and we stopped in to look around. I find it very hard to go into a bookstore and just browse, so we all walked out with several books.

I picked up the first two books in a series that I had heard quite a bit about when the first book came out. The reviews were generally positive, and I thought that I'd give it a shot.

The first book, the great "twist" was predictable from the prologue, but I read it anyways and enjoyed it. It took place at the turn of the century among a group of privileged, elite teenagers. Most of the book focused on the relationships among this group.

So the series progressed. People died, rumors, betrayals, scandals, blackmail, etc., all happened. I read through book two on the trip, came home and picked up the third and fourth book because I wanted to see how it all turned out.

And at the end of the fourth book, everybody's lives were awful. Well, one character ended up with a fairly decent life (after some horrific tribulations, including marrying the man who killed two of her family members), but the rest all went on to live very miserable existences.

Worst of all - the main couple in the series, the one you are rooting for from the first book to finally find their happiness, don't end up together.

I honestly read the last few pages of the book over again to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

His father dies, he has to take over the family business. He had been planning on running away with the heroine to Europe but can't. She decides that her future career as a writer is far more important than this man she is in love with, so she tells him it was fun, but I have to go. Best of luck to you.

I didn't need everyone's lives to be perfect. But I had expected a payoff after rooting for these characters and wanting them to be together. The author made sure we understood that these characters would never, ever be together again and would not reconnect at any point in the future.

As a reader, be aware of your audience. If you're a literary writer, you can get away with misery and torment up to the end. If you're a mystery writer, the mystery should get solved. The bad guys get stopped in suspense. The magic object saves the world in fantasy.

AND IN ROMANCE, the hero and heroine end up together and they're happy. The end.


At 7/11/2010 12:16 AM, Blogger Paisley said...

When I was growing up, movies used to have happy endings, especially the romance movies, And, well, the bad guys got caught, and were usually shot to h**l, while the good guys received their just reward, as well as the love of the pretty leading lady. But somewhere in the nineties things changed. Suddenly the main characters, (who we thought would live happily ever after,) shook hands and went their separate ways at the end of the movie, or the hero tragically died, (Thanks loads, Kevin Costner!) leaving a woman to grieve alone. If this happened only once, I could understand it being a fluke; an artistic interpretation by the writer or director of his concept of what life is really about, but when movie after movie we went to on our date night left us depressed, then it soured us on spending our precious alone time at the theatre. It also showed a definite trend in moviemaking. I’m not sure how long that morose movement lasted, but it was many years before we went to anything but children’s movies. You can’t go wrong with Ninja Turtles.

I’m afraid I am one of those “last page readers,” learned from being burned too many times by stories that ended badly enough I was sorry I ever started them. Since I buy my books off Amazon, I can’t read the ending before buying the book. Pity. My time is still too valuable to waste it on dissatisfying novels. Now I just waste my money and shelve the book.

At 7/11/2010 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post frustrates me on so many levels! It is because of this desire to have everything wrapped up in a nice happy ending without any ambiguity that there will never be a big audience for serious Mormon novels or films. Great art can be moving and powerful but it is rarely merely sappy and happy.

I can't imagine what you think of the Book of Mormon. Almost 600 pages and after all the build up about the coming of the savior, in the end everyone dies and the ba guys win. How awful!

Seriously, what I look for in a novel are developed characters that grow over the course of the book. I may not like where they end up but that growth needs to come organically as a logical growth of their choices and thoughts.

Tragic works can also be beautiful and poignant and affirming of the human spirit. One work I highly recommend for instance is atonement ( the basis for the movie with kiera knightly). Iwan mcewan is one of my favorite authors in fact for his ability to mix tragedy with portrayals of human ingenuity and character.

I am glad there are some Mormon authors that get it. Brady Udall's Lonely Polygamist is a perfect blend of humor and emotional power. He delivers a happy but bittersweet ending in which there is plenty of ambiguity. The characters have grown and are better off than on page 1, but at the same time you wonder if that
Growth is sufficient to overcome their flaws.

At 7/11/2010 11:03 AM, Blogger Janice said...

there is a happy ending to the Book of Mormon. It was buried and held in safe keeping for us. Every time we pick it up and learn gospel truths we are giving it a happy ending.

But we're talking about fiction here. Not scripture. I want happy endings. I want action and I want a kiss at the end. Reading is an escape. I want books that uplift and make me smile. If I ever need a dose of reality, I'll just sort through my boy's dirty socks. My character grows just thinking about it.

At 7/11/2010 11:18 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


If you were furstrated, it was because you skimmed Sariah's post so you could draw your own conclucsions. She clearly pointed out that unhappy endings in literary works are to be expected. Unless you are suggesting Udall writes the genre fiction Sariah was talking about.

What frustrates me, is this constant drum people who usually consider themselves "LDS intellectuals" beat. The GREAT (always in caps) Mormon novel must be deep and unhappy. It must make people squirm. It must make them uncomfortable with their own beliefs. Otherwise it can't be great. And it certainly can't be genre fiction.

Since you've obviously read your scriptures, you know that man is that he might have joy. I don't mind an unhappy ending myself. But to suggest that the Book of Mormon is somehow liteary fiction. Or that is has an unhappy ending is nonsense. It is a record of a people that was buried up to come forward today. It would have been an unhappy ending if Moroni was killed before burying the plates.

I have no problem that Udall is the poster child for this group of readers who look down on LDS genre fiction, and the people who read and write it. Although personally I find his work focused more on how he is writing than what he is writing. But stop looking down on people just because they don't share your tastes.

At 7/11/2010 4:03 PM, Blogger brendajean said...

WORST. SERIES. EVER. I am completely with you Sariah. I had a bad feeling after the first book and should have quit, but so many friends said it was a great series. I cried and threw book 4, then picked it up and reread it to make sure it was as awful as I thought. (even in my little mind I had her returning a year later to find he had divorced his harlot and was waiting with open arms. NOT)
I too have too much real life in real life. I read to escape it all and have warm fuzzy feelings when I finish a book. I now read Goodreads reviews before I start a book. (could Carrie Ryan please give me back the 5 hours I lost forever reading The Forrest of Hands and Teeth?!?!?!?!)
I loooooove your books. Own them and have read them more than once. They make me smile and sigh a little while I read. Thank you :)

At 7/11/2010 8:17 PM, Blogger Jolene said...

I used to not mind a crazy ending once in a while, or for one of main characters to undergo some sort of tragedy during the telling of the story, but the older I get and the more real life experience I have the more I want my book to be an escape, of happiness...

At 7/11/2010 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize if I stereotyped the post somewhat. My comment was a bit snarky. However, I based my feelings on this paragraph

'I'm a fan of happy endings (hence, the romance writing), but I'll go along with you on the ride as long as the ending isn't dark and depressing.'

The truth is that in life not everyone has a happy ending. Reading can be an escape but it can also be a powerful forum to provoke thought and emotion. So much of great literature from Dostoyevsky to Miller or Steinbeck do not have happy endings and yet still teach powerful lessons about humanity. I agree with you that I do not like needlessly bleak and edgy writing. I am not a fan of Cormac Mcarthy because his nihilism it relentless and overwhelming. I don't think books have to be hopeless but I do think they may have to be dark and take you places you may not otherwise want to go in order to educate and elucidate.

At 7/11/2010 9:24 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Thanks, Symphony. I was probably more snippy than I needed to be as well. It's just that as authors of LDS genre fiction, we get a lot of flack from people who think that because a book is a mystery, or a romance, or a thriller, it is automatically not well written.

I like a some darkness with my light. I like characters with real depth that make mistakes, and suffer from them.

i recently read 13 Reason Why, which is the story of a girl who has commited suicide. Definitely not an upper, and without a happy ending. But I was glad I read it.

At 7/11/2010 11:40 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I agree with Sariah when she said "there needs to be a payoff". Not that I need a book with a happy ending, but there needs to be a payoff and that full circle moment.

Jeff, I agree with "13 Reasons Why"--very compelling, very dark, but there was that payoff at the end that I felt I had made an important journey along with the main character.

At 7/11/2010 11:47 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

brendajean - you just made my whole night. Thank you. ;)

Book of Mormon = not a romance novel. No happy ending required. Nor is it fiction, so that makes it a little hard to compare to genre fiction.

And I will never see "Atonement." I know what happens in the end, which is why I will never watch/read it. Dark, depressing and heartrendingly sad. Blech.

I'm willing to let bad things happen to my characters. But I'm not willing to let their lives end up that way permanently. Which is why I write romance and not literary fiction or the Great Novel Of Our Times.

And ambiguity sucks. I don't like it. If you're telling me a story, tell me how it ends. Otherwise you've just wasted my time. I know not everyone feels this way, which is why it's great that we have so many choices of genres and authors to satisfy all the varying audience tastes.

At 7/11/2010 11:50 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Heather, obviously I agree. I need a payoff, and in this particular instance, as it was a YA romance, I wanted a payoff of these two characters ending up together after all they went through. That's how romances are supposed to end.

Or like the ending of "Lost" - not the one I was hoping for, and once I had it explained to me what everything meant (thank you Kristin Dos Santos), I saw that it was in fact a good ending to the series and a payoff of what the show had promised (although they did leave some things unexplained that bugged me, and I think you probably shouldn't have an ending that people don't understand until you explain the details to them, but that's another post).

At 7/15/2010 3:40 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

You all do know that literary fiction is a genre, right? It's not the ONLY EXAMPLE OF GREAT FICTION extant, only a genre. Some people love it, some people hate it. It's one type of fiction among many, many types. A genre.

Leveling the field a bit. . . :-)

At 7/20/2010 8:24 AM, Blogger Stephen said...

A book should deliver on what it promises. The same with a movie.

But a book, or a movie, should not switch genres or genders on you.

If it does, you have a right to feel betrayed -- because you have been.


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