I have a confession to make – I don’t believe that life always turns out the way you want it to. I don’t think the two people who are so obviously right for each other always end up together or that the good guys always win or that just because you live your life in a positive way that good things will happen to you. Sometimes, no matter what you do, that bus is going to hit you. (And I could have a whole long discussion about how different people handle getting hit by that metaphorical bus, but that is not the point of this post.)
So, what should I, as a writer, do about this?
There are certain schools of thought out there that say that writing is not “real life” so you can and should twist your story to make things come out right. Just tell the one-in-a-million, went through fire and back, and at the end of the day ended up happy and sane and happily settled down in their safe little world stories. Don’t tell the stories where the hero dies or where the star-crossed lovers don’t get together or where the hero saves the world but it breaks him into little bitty pieces and he can never recover to live a normal life. Supposedly that upsets readers and they’ll never read you again.
But, I still, to this day, remember the first book I ever read by Stephen R. Donaldson. It was called The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story. It was short. I can’t remember exactly what happens in it (I’ve already confessed that I pretty much forget a plot the minute I put a book down), but I remember that it was brutal. There were parts of the book that it hurt me to read. And because of that, because of the fact that it was one of the first books I had ever read where “real things” happened to people, I have read almost every other book by him. None of his other books really had the same effect on me as the first one (although I do actually remember part of the plot of the Thomas Covenant novels), but, because of that one book, I was willing to read another twelve books by him.
And yet, on the other side of the equation, another author that I will read anything by is Juliet Marillier. And I know by now that if I pick up one of her Sevenwaters books that, no matter what the two romantic leads go through, they’re going to end up together by the end of the book. And happily. And they’ll still be together in the next book. And yet I love reading her books. And if I were given a choice between one of her books and one by Donaldson and I could only choose one, I’d probably choose Marillier. She puts her characters through the wringer before they end up together, so even though I know how it’s going to end, I don’t know how she’s going to get them there. And really, most of the novels I enjoy are about the journey not the destination.
So, as a (hopefully) future author, which should I choose? Do I include a happy ending on my list of available services? Or not?
I guess this brings me back to the “writers are snowflakes” concept. I think each writer should write to their own strengths. As a reader, I know I enjoy a wide range of books depending on mood and where I’m going to be reading the book (bubble gum books or thrillers when on a plane, fantasy pretty much anywhere, heavy-duty Russian novels at home with the radio and t.v. turned off, etc.).
But I also think that whichever path I choose, I better stay consistent. If I offer a happy ending in book one, I better be prepared to offer it in books two, three, four, and five. (I’m not sure how I’d react as a reader if Juliet Marillier suddenly started killing off her characters or really did keep them apart…Being me I’d probably be ok with it, but I doubt all of her readers would.)
Either that or if I want to change direction I can go into the WPP (Writers’ Protection Program) and start out again with a shiny new pen name…
Of course, that assumes that I ever get published in the first place, which requires me to actually finish my book, which is what I should go work on now…(right after I eat, check e-mail, catch up on my random forum surfing, take a walk…)