Ever hear the phrase “any reaction is better than no reaction?” It’s the truth when it comes to creative endeavors, whether it’s music or a play or a novel. Beyond making a story work and be logical, satisfying and good is the basic underlying hope that it will elicit some sort of reaction.
Even if a person tells you they hate it, at least it evoked some kind of emotion or connection. My Beta recently told me that a particular story line in my book didn’t work for her–it confused her and she didn’t think it was necessary. Her dislike of that storyline made me go back, read it and think that an alternative would actually be more interesting. And certainly would show my MC in a better light, I think.
Do I want to make my Beta cry with my next draft? Do I want to make her contemplate some aspect of human nature by the end? Examine some historical or social event or attitude? It’d be nice, but not necessarily.
I just want to avoid the “Oh, that’s nice” reaction because that’s no reaction at all.
Let me give an example of “Oh, that’s nice.” I saw a Broadway production of the play Picnic. I went in not knowing anything about said play–the friend I so often go to see shows with (who should really be blogging about these things on her own) brought it to my attention. So we went. And we watched. And then the play ended and we hustled out to the subway, got on the train, looked at each other and went, “Well…”
“It was good.”
Let me give you the premise: Picnic takes place in a small Kansas town. A young man has stopped in the town and is doing odd jobs for an older lady, Mrs. Potts, who shares a backyard with a single mother and her two daughters, Madge and Millie. Madge is dating Alan, but she’s attracted to the (often shirtless) drifter. There’s also a spinster teacher who is seeing a businessman. It’s Labor Day Weekend and they all go to a town picnic. The second act shows us what happens after the picnic and that’s where I sort of lost the train, so to speak. Big Stuff Happens and there is Much Drama, but I didn’t connect to it.
Most of all, I felt that the ending was abrupt. A lot happens, characters’ lives change, but I just–I didn’t feel it.
My current ending on the second draft is also quite abrupt. I knew that the second I finished writing it, but I was tired of the story by then and knew that another draft was coming along, so I left it. But abrupt endings sort of leave you hanging out to dry or confused or simply wondering, “Umm…what just happened?”
Thus, I left the play with a reaction of: “It was nice, but…”
Contrast this reaction with our reaction after seeing The Heiress. I went in excited to see Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens and came out identifying strongly with Catherine and loved the ending, which showed us how Catherine has changed after the events of the play.
I suppose because the end is the conclusion, culmination, the last thing one reads or sees in a work, the way it wraps up the piece is so important to the overall impression. If Atonement didn’t have that twist in the last section, would I consider it my favorite novel? If Frodo didn’t leave Middle-earth, after everything he has sacrificed, would I have found The Lord of the Rings as poignant as I do?
Of course I’ve read books where I had a reaction of “Oh, that’s nice”–tepid, at best–for a myriad of reasons, not just because of a too-quick ending. But because I was, frankly, confused by Madge’s last decision, which ends the play, it made me reflect on endings.
I have had trouble with endings. I have a general idea of “this character, this place, this time, this other character, this problem and then this and this and this happens,” with a vague sense of an ending, somewhere in the distance. Can’t do that anymore. I think I’ll start writing my endings first, actually. JK Rowling had her ending to Harry Potter written for years beforehand.
My Beta said my current ending was abrupt. Too much happens, something new gets brought in that wasn’t alluded to at all, it’s confusing. Even when I know that one of my endings isn’t working, I can’t always see that it’s a sudden ending. I knew it was a bad ending, I knew I wanted to fix it, that too much was happening, all leading to a probable reaction of a simple “It’s good” with a modifying “But…”
I get it now, Beta.