A HAPPY ENDING – OR THE RIGHT ENDING?

Vivien Hampshire considers the importance of choosing the right ending for her novel

It seemed easy enough when I was writing the synopsis.

I had all my characters worked out and I knew, more or less, barring the finer details, what was going to happen to them. But as the opening chapters of the book started to take shape, it all seemed just a little too predictable – and boring. Yes, I know it’s meant to be romantic fiction, and it’s the conflicting emotions and the journey towards the inevitable happy ending that really count but, as author Carol Shields once famously said, “When you write happy endings, you are not taken seriously as a writer.”

So, should I throw in more drama and excitement? Should something happen to surprise or shock my readers, take the story in an unexpected direction, or tug at their heartstrings? Should I be keeping my characters, and my readers, on their toes by not giving them the happy-ever-after ending they expect? I decided to put the whole thing aside for a while in the hope that a different and more unconventional ending might start to emerge. And then it came to me in a flash: My heroine would have to die! Nobody would expect that. David Nicholls got away with it in ‘One Day’ and look how successful that was! I hastily, but happily, rewrote the synopsis, and plodded on.

So, I had a new ending to aim for, but my characters obviously didn’t know that! Somewhere around the 20,000 word mark, they seem to have taken on lives of their own – and they’re rebelling! The girl I was planning to kill, despite her flaws, is just too likeable. Her voice is becoming so real that I can hear it in my head, and I don’t want to extinguish it. My hero, who I had planned should take over the first-person narrative after she dies, just isn’t up to the job, and the ‘substitute heroine’ he was to end up with is turning out to be horrible and hasn’t got a hope of winning readers’ hearts, let alone the hero’s!

What all this proves to me is that it’s just not possible to write a full synopsis and determine an ending right from the start. How can you plan what will happen to your characters until you have got to know them and what makes them tick? Only then can you give them the fate they deserve. And now I’ve realised all of that, suddenly my story has fallen into place. Having played around with the alternatives and made sure there are still a few surprises in store, the latest, and hopefully final, version (incorporating love, loss and the all-important romance, happy ending and all) is shining ahead of me like a guiding light.

And now that I know the ending – the right ending – it’s full steam ahead to get the story, and everybody in it, safely and swiftly there!

 VIV Blog picture Snoopy - the end

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5 thoughts on “A HAPPY ENDING – OR THE RIGHT ENDING?

  1. I LOVE it, Viv, and it reaffirms that writing from the heart not the chart is the right way, for me at least and it would seem for you too. It’s good to have a plan of course; probably essential, but not one that is set in stone. It’s been proved time and time again than no matter what WE think our characters will take over and do what THEY want.

    I look forward to the time when it is you and not Snoopy sitting up there with a tear in the eye – but it’s a great photo and a really good piece. Thank you

  2. Thank you, Viv. It’s interesting to hear how different people work. I usually have a plan when I start out but I find that things invariably change as I’m writing and the characters take the story in a new direction. I did a complete scene breakdown for one novel which, needless to say, veered off somewhere else. Sometimes the minor characters object to what I have planned for them too. In my last novel I was going to kill off my main character’s best friend, but she was having none of it! So, though I like to have some idea where I’m going, I enjoy the deviations too.

  3. An interesting piece, Viv. I’m a planner in that I have a story outline, I expand it and then write my chapter breakdown. After that I can be as creative as I wish. I get to know my characters during the planning stage by interrogting them and making sure they have no hidden facets. However, since having that first ‘magic’ novel published I realise that publishers and agents dictate the moves in our books. They wish to see a story outline and will have their input. Kill a character, change a scene long before we start to write. It’s not always down to the author.
    Elaine Everest

  4. A good article, Viv. To me, much of the joy of writing is in watching what your characters get up to. In my only book a character died much to my surprise. It was sad for the writer, sad for the reader but enabled a secret to be revealed. Something was working behind the scenes. In writing short stories I’ve learned to trust my folk – they seem to know what they’re doing.. Why should they, living beings, ;listen to me; only dead fish go with the flow. What I provide is a loose structure in which they can act.

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