Friday, November 7, 2014

Where the Story Ends

Story crafters talk a lot about starting a story at an optimal place. As a writer, novice or seasoned, you’ve probably penned a story or two where you ended up remove a big hunk of your overly bloated beginning. I’m guilty right there with ya!
And I totally agree, in order to hook your reader and start the story off a swingin’ you absolutely must start at just the right spot to avoid either a jarring entrance that puzzles and infuriates the reader or avoid wading through those backstory-ladened first pages that put the reader into a coma before you even get to the good stuff.
The meet cute. The inciting incident. The action.
Whatever the case may be for your journey on paper.

What is talked significantly less about is where the story ends, which I have always found interesting since we all live for that Happily Ever After.
A proposal. A wedding day. A pretty bow sealed with a kiss.

But haven’t you read those books where you fight, and I mean fight to get to that HEA to discover you only get a handful of pages of “happy” to cap off hundreds of pages of torture?

Sometimes you get an Epilogue that gives you a glimpse of a happy moment down the road. And if you’re lucky, there might have been some fun moments woven into the meat of the story instead of a battle of wills and circumstances that eventually culminate in a final sweet promise of a forever we are left to imagine.

Here's a good example: Cinderella was a big deal for me growing up but I see it more as women's fiction since there are such blatant flaws in the romance angle of the story. We suffer through the story with sweet Cindy, all the horrid details of her life, her longing for more. And what do we get for our trouble? One measly dance at the ball with the prince where they barely speak to each other. Bam! LOVE? Was he that good of a dancer? Is Cinderella just a gold digger using the prince to escape her poverty? Are we supposed to be satisfied that all we see of their love story is the dance and the wedding bells at the end? The prince sends his servant with a shoe to go retrieve his prize like he's too busy polishing his own gold-tasseled loafers to seek out the woman he wants to hitch his fancy carriage to! But I digress...
Do you ever think about what happens after The End? Or do the characters cease to exist once you close the book?

I hate to admit it but I dread reading books about married people living these “so called” happily ever afters because it seems like once they’ve settled in for the long haul, the honeymoon is almost always well and truly over.

Doesn’t anyone write about happy marriages? Honestly, if I pick up a romance novel and the characters are already married in the beginning I know I’m looking at hours dealing with infidelity, neglect, or abuse. Of course there needs to be conflict to move a story along but is this what it boils down to…

-We reluctantly fall in love like we’ve contracted an unfortunate, incurable disease…

-We have a few moments of bliss (or insanity) when we give in to it just long enough to tie the knot…

-And then the story ends, or it just all disintegrates into heartbreak, lonely coexistence, regret, insecurity, betrayal, (fill in additional factors for divorce here).

Why?! Why do we stop at “And they all lived happily ever after” and never continue the story to show what we really long to see... Faithfulness, enduring passion, genuine agape love. friendship. Commitment.

Maybe it’s just me, but 90% of the stories I read make falling in love seem like a total drag and then they cap it off with a few happy smiles and sweet kisses. Are we supposed to be satisfied with that? Doesn't our happy ending exist in the chaos of walking through all the beautiful messes of life with someone we trust and desire and actually enjoy having at our side? And why is no one telling that part of the story even a little bit before they type in those last two three letter words… the end.

Tell me… have you read any stories that include this type of flourishing happily ever after for more than a chapter at the end? What’s the best HEA story you’ve read lately. We all need some fairy dust now and then. Happy Friday, Alley Pals!
Amy Leigh Simpson is a writer, singer, runner, foodie, coffee-lovin’-chocoholic. When she’s not dreaming up saucy love stories sprinkled with suspense and mystery, she’s chasing around her two adorable tow-headed toddler miscreants (Ahem)—boys, playing dress up with her miracle princess baby, and being the very blessed wife to the coolest, most hunky hero on the planet (sorry, ladies—taken). Though Amy doesn’t use her Sports Medicine degree for anything but patching up daily boo boo’s, she enjoys weaving medical aspects into her writing. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.


Carla Laureano said...

Interesting! I guess you and I differ in that the happily ever after married life is not what I'm interested in reading. After sixteen years of marriage, I'm well familiar with it. It's the falling in love part that I like to relive through fiction.

A couple of thoughts on why this isn't done more often in romance:

One, the stability we crave in real life is rather mundane on the page. There's no inherent conflict in that, so after the resolution of the book's main purpose (getting to the "I do"), anything else makes the book feel like it just rambles on. Plus, in order to have any semblance of realism, you have to acknowledge that the hero leaves his socks on the floor and I don't know about you, but that just blows the whole fantasy out of the water for me.

Two, before the "I do" is the business of romance novels. After the "I do" is women's fiction. :)

But some sweet and steamy women's fiction with a happily married couple who still face some issues? Yeah, I could get behind that...

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

The series I'm writing right now will tackle this issue, following the marital relationships (the good, the bad, and the ugly) of one town's citizens, with romance and mystery thrown in for kicks, but with Godly marriage (and real-life marital struggles) being key.

Unfortunately I'm still writing book one, so it could be some time before you get to meet all the characters that currently reside in my head!

God Bless!
J. Lynn Martin

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Carla, I'm so glad you weighed in! You've raised some excellent points but I'll have to disagree with your assessment that stable marriage relations would make for mundane fiction. I think the magic in a well written book is that ordinary things become extraordinary. Everyone falls in love at some point and yet on paper we get to relive the magic. But that's not the only place the magic exists in a relationship. Sad if it was. There's something so basic and yet intriguing about diving into someone else's world. I think if it's done right it would be anything but mundane.

And I don't think that after the "I do" it could only be women's fiction simply because we don't just fall in love before we get married and then coast. As cheesy as it sounds love is a journey. It changes, grows, becomes something we couldn't have imagined it could be from those seedling beginnings.

I agree conflict is key, I just hate see the same old marriage conficts in story that give marriage a bad name. And I guess the point of this post was to maybe not end the story quite so abruptly. Yes, let us fall in love, but let us revel in it too. Let's not always cut it off right when we get to the good stuff. In case anyone was wondering... marriage is the good stuff. I think we could stand to use a little bit more happy at the end of our stories.

One good way to do this is to bring the characters into the next book as a secondary storyline to continue their HEA. That never bothers me. :) Then again, I like seeing my characters happy... you know, after I've spent a good long time torturing them. They've earned it. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

J. Lynn... ooo, that sounds marvelous! I think that's why I like writing suspense so much. You can have your conflict be about so much more than typical relationship drama. The obstacles can me much more external in some ways. And who doesn't love a good mystery? :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

I understand what you mean, Amy. That's why the ending is so crucial - it has to be good enough and long enough to be worth the struggle. I get very annoyed with a too quick ending. And I do enjoy a good Epilogue.
I also like the continuation of the characters into a sequel. I'm writing that right now with book 2 of Irish Meadows. Better go back and make sure that marriage is really good!
Cheers, Sue

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

I've always assumed/understood the reason for the front-heavy is the conflict question. But with everyone being so intent on "conflict," I fear we fall into the cruel and reduce depth and, yeah, can make marriage look bad.

My interest/writing angle has pretty consistently been fairy tales, and I've always been drawn to the tales that don't end at the wedding and contain tangible respect and affection (they really do exist!).

The trick about keeping conflict in these stories seems to be uniting the couple against outside forces.

Another way I've played it is that newlywed stage where you're still getting to know one other, so "conflict" doesn't have to be about hurt. It can also be, "Oh. Now I know."

My current novel is being released in January, and one of the points of the story is that it isn't over after the (fairytale-predictable) wedding and disenchantment of the "beast." They still have to figure out what life together looks like when you're committed to each other and have different needs and goals.

I read for security, maybe even predictability-- as long as you also creatively surprise me-- so any conflict needs to hold the potential of a solution. I think that's my essential in any fiction, but especially with long term relationships.