Writer Wednesday: Divergent & The Case for the Semi-Happy Ending

I’ve just finished the first draft of my latest domestic suspense manuscript, and I’ll confess that getting to the end of those final few chapters was a daunting task!

Months earlier, I’d brainstormed, outlined, and planned each chapter … only to completely change my mind about the ending 90% through the manuscript.

The result, despite too little sleep, too much coffee, and a bit of panic, was a much improved ending—an ending that I hope readers will agree is a compelling, tense, and satisfying.

To clarify, my definition of satisfying does not mean perfect, with every storyline tied up neatly, and every character riding off into the sunset toward his or her happily ever after. For me, there is much to be said for a semi-happy ending. One that makes a reader wonder a bit, speculate, and imagine what might happen next if the novel was to continue.

Without a satisfying ending, authors run the risk of readers closing the book and walking away disappointed. Those same readers might not pick up your next novel. And, in my opinion, if we, as authors, don’t please our wonderful readers, we might as well quit the writing business for good!


Shortly thereafter, I began hearing rumors. At first, I didn’t want to believe them. Then, I noticed mentions on Twitter and Facebook, which led to me checking Goodreads and Amazon. Sure enough, many readers were unhappy about the trilogy’s ending.

So, when my son asked me to order Allegiant, I said yes, and hid my reluctance. While I wanted to protect him from disappointment, I would never dissuade him from reading. And maybe, just maybe, I was overreacting about the ending.

I picked up the hardcover from our local bookstore, brought it home, read the book in one sitting, and set it on the dining room table. After school, my sixteen-year claimed his new novel.

Grinning, he asked if I’d already finished it.

“Sure did,” I’d replied.

“What did you think?” he asked.

“Umm,” I said, wracking my brain. “Can’t tell you,” I said. “Spoiler alert.” I hesitated, but then offered him a tiny hint just to soften the blow. “Be prepared. You might not like how it wraps up.”

Perplexed, he disappeared into his bedroom, book in hand. Three hours later, I heard a yell, something that sounded like he dropped a brick on his bare foot.

My son reappeared, red-faced.

“What?”

He shook the book in one hand and pressed his palm to his forehead. “I can’t believe it.” He hung his head

Now, let me be clear. My son wasn’t looking for a Cinderella ending. Or a Sleeping Beauty finale. I don’t think that any reader needed, or expected, a white wedding with Tris and Four. This is dystopian fiction, after all.

What my son wanted, along with so many other fans, was simple. A semi-happy ending.

Tris’ unexpected demise took me back to Jenny’s death in Forrest Gump, Ned Stark’s beheading in Game of Thrones, John Proctor’s hanging in ­The Crucible, and just about everyone killed off in the Harry Potter series. Don’t even get me started on Marley & Me or Bambi’s mother. Heartbreaking. Awful. Devastating. The stuff that makes otherwise totally reasonable, rational people cry.

Let me give credit where credit is due, though. Roth, Rowling, and Martin are brilliant writers. When throngs of fans mourn the loss of a character so deeply, when they protest a writer’s decision on social media and in reviews, that author has touched a gigantic fan-based nerve.

It all comes down to connection. It’s proof that we, as readers, resonate with a character–her or his story and struggle. We buy into the plight. We want to know what happens next. We pray when they battle adversity, we grieve their losses, and we cheer when they fall in love. We care. Deeply.

So, if she’s reading this, I have a simple request for Veronica Roth (and all of my other favorite authors). Go easy on us next time. We readers are a sensitive bunch. When you can, give us a semi-happy ending.

xo,

Laura

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