Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two Novels and Their Endings

Last week, I read two books that are clearly romance novels, and clearly aimed at women readers. They both have the theme of responding to and dealing with significant personal loss. Maybe this tells you more about me than it does about the books. While I’ve haven’t dealt with the kinds of losses these books are about, for some reason I’m attracted to stories about loss.

Neither book is a first novel. Both are good stories. I saw how one would end almost from the beginning. In the other, the ending was far less obvious and consequently far more intriguing. (No, I haven’t reviewed them on Amazon or mentioned them by name on this blog. And I won’t. I read a lot, and I only review and write about the books I really like. Cowardly? Yes.)

But both share a similar issue. The issue is not large enough to take away all the enjoyment of reading the stories, but it’s an issue nonetheless, and one I've run across before.

The issue is this: The ending gets in the way of the story. It’s as if the story is too long in the telling, or the author wants to keep telling the story, and suddenly the so-called word limit for the genre kicks in and resolution has to happen fast. So things get compressed. It’s like riding along at 40 miles an hour in a car, but you have to reach your destination within a certain time limit, and you’re running late, so you almost floor the accelerator. Some call it APD – accelerated plot development.

In one of the novels, resolution is developed in literally the last chapter, with no hint that it’s coming. In the other, resolution comes in the second-to-last chapter – but the last chapter is anticlimatic and superfluous. I had the distinct impression with both books that the authors loved telling the stories and wanted to keep on telling them, but their editors called a halt, and a quick rewrite created an ending. Or the original manuscripts were too long for what’s considered conventional for the genre.

This issue isn't typical of the genre, but I’ve seen it here more than in others, the others (for me) being literary and suspense. Examples of contemporary romance that I've read that avoid this problem include any novel by Charles Martin, Bonnie Grove’s Talking to the Dead, Susan Meissner’s The Shape of Mercy and Chris Fabry’s Dogwood. I don’t know if any of these authors had the ending in mind from the beginning or not, but at least at some point in the writing, the ending became clear and they began to write towards it. The writing is better for it, and it makes a better story. Martin, Grove, Meissner and Fabry know what they’re doing. (And while awards don't necessarily connote quality in any field, I would be remiss not to note that Chris Fabry’s Dogwood just won a Christy Award, a well deserved Christy Award.)

It’s caused me to go back and look at my own (unpublished) work, and make certain that there is indeed an ending I’m writing towards. Or do I want to keep telling the story?

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