Some of us like happy endings in the novels we read. Others prefer an inconclusive ending, where the reader can invent his/her own ending. Sometimes we are stimulated by a message the author has given us: about life, or about being human. I have to confess that, when I’m writing, I prefer to write happy endings – probably because I’m an optimist about life. Fishing in Foreign Seas has a happy ending. There’s plenty of trouble stored up before the ending. Jamie, the principal character, loses a huge order. His wife, Caterina, hates where they are living, is furious at her husband for being tempted by his PA, and her sex life isn’t working well. Moreover, they have a Down’s Syndrome child.
With Sin & Contrition, it wasn’t really possible to write a happy ending. Instead, I gave each of the six characters a chance to have a final say. Some of them come off rather well; others less so. The message is that all of us are actually sinners. The extent to which we are forgiven (and forgive ourselves) depends on the extent to which we admit our mistakes and try, conscientiously, not to repeat them.
Recently, I’ve taken the view that the ending of a chapter is important, too. In the post about Beginnings, I made the point that the writer must try to intrigue the reader with the first few sentences. If one assumes that most readers pause their reading at the end of a chapter, I think it’s a good idea to leave the reader uncertain about what will happen next. S/he therefore has an incentive to pick the book up sooner – rather than later – to find out what happened. I’m not a fan of any particular soap opera, but it seems to be a universal technique that the viewer is presented with a twist in the plot at the end of an episode, and the viewer hears, “Tune in next Tuesday to find out how Sally copes with . . . ” Of course, if the author presented the reader with this kind of a teaser at the end of every chapter, the reader would begin to feel that the story is too contrived. So, I’m only suggesting that the writer give a thought about how to bring a chapter to conclusion in a way that keeps the reader’s interest.
For example, here is the conclusion of Chapter 9 of Fishing in Foreign Seas. Valerie is a sales engineer who works for Jamie. She has just turned in the big bid, and she invites him for a drink.
Valerie was interesting company. She talked about her family, what she did during the summers as a teenager, and she had some funny stories about her friends. On her second drink, she told him about her ex-boyfriend. Apparently, he had been very ‘fit’ (read ‘sexy’), but he had tried to manage her life, and she had dumped him.
“I prefer a more mature man who’ll give me some space, and rather likes having a woman with a strong libido around.” She looked at him meaningfully.
“Yes, I see,” he said, vaguely, and asked the waiter for the check.
“How about I buy you dinner? After all, this was supposed to be my drink,” she suggested.
“I have to get home, and get my beauty sleep, ready for Arizona Electric at seven tomorrow.”
“OK.” She paused. “Do you like Margaritas?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, I make a great Margarita! Next time at my place.”
Does Valerie get Jamie to her place? You’ll have to read more to find out.