Podcast Transcript: What’s the difference between bad beginnings and bad endings? That’s the question we’re going to explore in Episode 4 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. For anyone tuning in for the first time, my name is Jeannette DiLouie, and I’m the chief executive editor of Innovative Editing, as well as its two free services, The Genuine Writer Podcast and The Genuine Writer e-letter. All three outlets focus on helping people publish or present their best words possible, whether that’s through academic essays, business copy, or book writing.
Feel free to sign up anytime for The Genuine Writer e-letter, which goes out every Tuesday to capture all the fantastic free writing resources that Innovative Editing published over the last week in its blog posts and podcast episodes. So far in January, we’ve covered everything from flash fiction to writer’s retreats to business blogging. And there are plenty more fiction, nonfiction, personal and professional insights still to come in 2019.
Signing up is easy too – all you need to do is go to www.InnovativeEditing.com, click on the Services tab and then select “The Genuine Writer” option. It’ll prompt you for your email, and voila! You’re signed up, complete with a short, sweet and to-the-point report called “Writing Tips 101” that is all about getting you perfectly placed to get on track with your writing goals, whatever they are.
“Writing Tips 101” can be applied pretty broadly to the writing spectrum. But for this particular podcast episode, we’re going to be focusing on book writing especially. And while the example I’m going to cite is about as fictional as you can get, since it’s a sci-fi interpretation of a fairytale, the larger points are valid for any kind of book, no matter the genre or required realism.
Here’s the thing: No matter the manuscript you want to write, publish and promote, you can’t rush the ending.
Actually, correction: Yes you can. There’s probably no law wherever you are or physical disability you have that’s keeping you from rushing the ending of your narrative. What you do with your words, sentences, paragraphs and pages is entirely up to you when everything is said and done, which means if you want to butcher them in any number of ways, that’s your right. As their author, you’ve got the ultimate authority.
But just because you have the right doesn’t mean you’re right to utilize it. Your writing can either improve or suffer based on the decisions you make, and it’s definitely going to suffer if you rush the ending.
Think of it this way… Do you know what the difference between a bad beginning and a bad ending is? A bad beginning isn’t necessarily going to make readers never want to pick up another of your books again. If anything, they’re probably just going to forget about you altogether and move on to the next book in their stack of potential buys. Quite possibly, they’ll even stumble upon another of your works down the road without even recognizing that they’ve tried reading you before.
Since they only read a paragraph or two of that first attempt – definitely no more than a chapter – they’re not invested in you, your book or your brand. They’re just browsers, and your beginning is just one more piece of stimuli to crowd up their long-term memory or to fade away altogether.
Not so much when readers have invested hours and hours and hours turning your book’s pages. Even if they didn’t pay a dime for the paperback or hardcover or e-copy – even if they got it out of the library or received it as a gift – they’ve still “paid a price” as it were. They still gave up their time. They’re still emotionally, psychologically and/or intellectually invested in the end.
Rushing that end is therefore a slap in their faces. It’s as if you physically typed out, “I couldn’t be bothered anymore. You’re not worth the effort,” into the last few chapters or pages.
Ouch! Right? Nobody wants to be trivialized or marginalized or otherwise dismissed like that. It’s a moral outrage: an affront to our dignity! And it certainly makes for a more memorable occasion than a book that merely bored us for a few paragraphs.
That’s the situation I came across recently by an author who, as usual, I won’t name. Writers have to be downright morally or intellectually harmful before I’ll publicly shame them like that. And that was simply not the case of this particular individual. Her work was only an unfortunate waste of my time.
A sci-fi/fantasy piece, it reimagined a particular fairytale – which one, I actually couldn’t tell you – in what started out as a pretty entertaining, pretty engaging, pretty well-written fashion. It was cliché, sure, but what modern-day fairytale isn’t cliché? Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Something exists or comes into being to draw them apart, they overcome it and live happily ever after. The end.
That was pretty much the gist of this one, but hey, I’m as much a sucker for a fun fairytale as the next girl. I own more than a few Disney fairytales in my DVD collection, and my bookshelves contain titles like Princess Academy, The Runaway Princess and Entwined, the latter of which is a retelling of the 12 dancing princesses fairytale. Besides, there really isn’t any new plot under the sun anyway.
There are, however, worthwhile and really disappointing endings. And this one did not fall into the worthwhile category. The prince proposes. The lost princess turns him down because she can’t abandon her mission of being there for her people, he takes it like a man, and it seems like they have a lot to work out before they can enter into their happily ever after.
Except that they don’t. There’s one chapter left after that monumental scene. One chapter that starts out by pointing out how months have passed, how the lovebirds talk every day, how they don’t see each other enough, and how she still just doesn’t know how it can work between the two of them. But then he shows up at her door with a picnic basket and tries to propose to her again, only for her to turn him down again – though this time just to turn the tables and propose to him. After that, presumably, everything is hunky dory. Despite how no part of her initial concerns have been addressed or resolved.
That killed it for me. I imagine that it killed it for a lot of readers, or at least left them scratching their heads wondering if they missed something. How could it not with an ending that rushed?
Now, in the case of this story in particular, I think I understand what the author was trying to do. As far as I can tell, she was trying to add in a feminist message at the end. The main character wasn’t meant to be content for the rest of her life just because she’d found a man she loved. She wanted more than that. She wanted an overall fulfilling life marked with purpose. She wanted to use her gifts and abilities as much as she could to make the world a better place.
I support that message. At face value, nothing wrong with it whatsoever. The way I see it, no human being can ever completely fulfill another human being. That’s just not a power we possess as a race. As such, we should never think we’ve found eternal happiness in a romantic partner. Even so, that reality-based message didn’t have to be forced or rushed the way it was.
First off, the character in question was already firmly established as an independent woman. She was an orphan, a warrior and a spy, hardly the kind of damsel in distress feminists like to refute. Her falling in love didn’t diminish any of that. The rest of the story proved as much.
But secondly, even if it hadn’t – even if the lost princess had learned a lesson along the way about how she didn’t need no man – there were other ways to handle her concerns about running off with him into the sunset when she was, in fact, going to run off with him into the sunset regardless, and in such short order too. When he proposed, she could have said something along the lines of, “Darling, of course I want to marry you. You mean so much to me. But I need you to know that there are other very important factors in my life that I don’t want to give up. You need to be okay with that before I say yes.”
Thirdly, the climatic moment was already over and done with by that point. There’d been a major battle between the bad guys and good guys that was obviously meant to be the pinnacle of the plot. Everything else was supposed to be a gentler journey to the end. So her rejecting the prince so soundly with so little left to the story was rather confusing. And it got even more murky as I finished up those last few pages.
Whether by nature or nurture or both, readers expect there to be a recognizable pattern to a story. There’s the beginning, where the plot, setting and characters are introduced. The rising action comes next to establish or expound on the difficulties involved in seeing the plot through. The climactic moment is where everything gets as intense as it’s going to get, where readers are left wondering whether the protagonists are going to be able to pull through or not. And then the falling action puts all the remaining pieces into place to usher in the story’s final stage, which is the ending.
While writers are more than welcome to try to burst out of that box, they should really understand how difficult it’s going to be and how much extra time, thought and effort they’re going to have to make in the process. To be honest, it’s very rarely going to be worth the artistic effort. And in this case, I don’t think there was much artistic effort made.
The author had an agenda, which is fine, but she forced that agenda into the story instead of letting the story naturally carry it. Then, after she’d made the point she wanted to make, she decided she was done and forced the ending as well.
It’s a major shame all around, but it is what it is in this book’s case. That’s on its author. As for the author or authors-to-be listening now, determine now that you’re better than that. And so is your book.