Monday, November 03, 2008

Endings part 2 or Credible Surprise or JR Ward blows my mind...again.

I've never claimed to be very smart. In fact I'm usually the first to point out what an idiot I am. Let me do that now, I am a total idiot. I had one of those moments this week, when I truly realized what something I've been yammering on and on about really means. It's like when I say over and over again "I have two kids." And the millionth time I say it I have a panic attack because suddenly I realize - holy crap I have two kids!!

Maureen and Sinead brought back the JR Ward guide to the BlackDagger series and trust me, I don't want to be this kind of fan. But apparently I am because I am gobbling the thing up, even the ridiculous things, like when the brothers show up on her message boards...yikes. But, she also talks about her process writing each book -what she knew and didn't know and the happy miracles that happened along the way in terms of plot, world-building and character. And anyone who has been blown away by this series should read this book -- Stephanie Doyle, I am talking to you.

She also gives us her rules of writing. And her rules Conflict is King and Credible Surprise is Queen, blew my little mind.

Yes, of course I know conflict. Conflict conflict conflict conflict. More and more, different and bigger and better and high stakes and internal and external - I know conflict. But this is it -- the conflict we give our characters WE HAVE TO RESOLVE!!!

It's easy to give your lovers roadblocks, but you've got to clear that stuff out of the way at some point. All of them. All that conflict that seems so riveting in your first act and the stuff you add in the second act because you think you need more conflict and then the stuff you shove into the back story because -- heck, your hero just isn't wounded enough. You gotta deal with it.

Sinead had a little rant a few weeks ago about how bad some endings are in books - writer's seem to get the idea of hooky beginnings and lots of conflict but then around page 260 they go...oops. And throw this crazy hail mary in an effort to resolve that conflict. And it doesn't work. I know that I am totally guilty of yadda yadda-ing my endings. In fact in my outlines to my editor I usually say "he grovels and they live happily ever after." And writing my endings is like pushing a boulder up hill and I just don't care at that point -- I'm so tired of all that conflict. And I am missing the chance to send a reader to bed at three am with a huge smile on her face. Endings are important - really important. They are why readers read romance. No doubt about it.

But, not only doing have to deal with all that conflict. Ward goes and ups the bar again with credible surprise. End your book in a way that the reader doesn't see coming and make it more satisfying than anything they were imagining. Reversing reader expectations to the tenth power. So, you have to make it something they didn't see coming but at the same time you have to plant some clues along the way so it's credible. It's not just about groveling, or near death experiences making character realize what they've lost or could lose. Or, as I can admit to having written - the hero taking a walk and figuring it all out. We've got to work on our endings as much as we work on our beginnings. We can't just let our endings happen. She talks about that ghost ending for those of you thinking of that. And for those of you thinking about that and saying perhaps Ward does not practice what she preaches, I remind you of Zsadist's ending, which was easily for my money the best ending in romance. Ever.

But what I need to think about every time I add conflict is how am I going to resolve it. How am I going to surprise the reader with my happily ever after? Good God - that's a challenge. I need a drink.

6 comments:

Sinead M said...

As someone who has had many drunk writer talks with Molly, I can safely say you are one of the smartest people I know.
And the Aha moments are so rare these days, we should savour them.
Love JR Ward and I totally got the impression that during the writing of this series, she figured out a lot, realized she had a killer idea and decided she would do all the work necessary to get the idea to work start to finish.
So unlike me, she didn't get lazy...
Love her.

Maureen McGowan said...

Damn you for posting this just as I was about to send my ms with its sucky ending off to my agent. Damn you.

Okay, bless you. I got one of those Brotherhood books for me, too, and clearly have more reading to do.

Stephanie Doyle said...

sMust have this book... where does one find this book...

I'm still bummed I couldn't make the NJ conference. I had the card on my fridge for months - but a vacation sucked up all my dough.

If I knew you Sinead and Maureen were going to be there I would have driven up... alas I didn't read the posts until this week.

So she was awesome right? Really smart and really thoughtful. Excellent. With the whole sunglasses thing I was afraid she'd be a little wacky.

Maureen McGowan said...

We missed you, Stephanie! I thought you'd be there for sure. Molly wasn't there, but Sinead and I had a great time.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Yes, Steph - you really must have this book. I'm sure it's in stores right now and I'm sure it's a stupid amount of money, but it's good stuff. I want to drink too much and talk about it.

Kristin said...

But how do you know when you have that blow-the-reader-away ending? Once I'm in the middle of writing a book, it's so hard for me to tell if I've surprised anyone or not because *I* know where the book is headed.

The best I can do is believe my ending and my twists are as good as I think they are and hope for the best. I don't know HOW to tweak or rethink or 'surprise' beyond what already has come to me.

Does that make sense?

Also, I have to say that not every writer is going to be the type that comes up with surprise after surprise and twist after twist. Sometimes you just have to rely on telling a good story with good characters...and not worry about over complicating the story just to put some twists or surprise in there.

Does that make sense?

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