I’ve been suffering from a serious case of sleep deprivation during the past couple weeks, but for once it has’t been because of work. This time I’m blaming it on all those world class Olympic athletes. Once again, I was drawn right into the stories behind the athletes, the nail-biting competitions, and way too many late nights while waiting to see one more event.
But, after investing hours of my life watching the Games, I was sorely disappointed in the ending. Did you see it? The closing ceremony was still in full swing when the network cut to a commercial break and then came back with the premier of a new TV show. Sure, that’s their call. But to make it even crazier, they tuned back in to the rest of the ceremony later. Seemed pretty anticlimactic at that point.
So how does this relate to writing (since, after all, this is Writing Wednesday)? It’s all about our audience’s expectations and how we wrap things up.
When we write a story, we immediately set the stage for where we’ll be taking our reader, whether it’s a romance or a suspense or a thriller. If we start down one path and shift gears at some point along the way, we’ll lose readers. We want to keep those readers happy – deliver what we’ve promised – so they’ll stay with us until the end. Then, once we reach that finish line, we want our readers to be happy with how things end.
Did you write a romance? Then the hero and heroine need to be together for their “happily ever after.” Did someone get killed? Then you need to reveal who did it. Did the hero combat his biggest enemy? Then he’d better win, if it’s the end of the story.
That’s what readers expect – what publishing folks call a “satisfactory ending.” We shouldn’t cut things off or jump from one thing to the next just because we’ve maxed out on our word count. National networks might be able to get away with it, but we can’t – it leaves readers confused, and confused readers are ones who won’t necessarily pick up your next book (and who probably won’t recommend it to their friends). No author can afford running that risk.
Will I watch the Olympics again the next time they roll around? Of course I will — because they’re the Olympics. 🙂 But it’s not so easy if you’re an author trying to please a reader. I’m still a long way from “the end” with my book, but when I reach that point you can bet I’ll do my best to end it well – no leaving readers in the lurch allowed.
As novelist and teacher Randy Ingermanson has been known to say, “Readers buy the book because of the beginning, but they tell their friends because of the ending.” That’s a lesson I hope to always remember.