On the Art and Inexact Science of a Good Ending to a Novel

On 3rd September on the third day of my Mystical Circles blog tour, blogger Rosie Amber hosted a guest post from me on her blog.On a journey (2)

This is part of a series in which I reblog the articles from that blog tour. So today’s post is the article Rosie Amber first published online, called:

On the Art and Inexact Science of a Good Ending to a Novel

Recently a fellow blogger piqued my interest with a piece about online book reviews. Amongst the observations she made, she referred to the attitude authors take to their reviews. She noted that many people have different interpretations of the star-ratings. Specifically she mentioned that she had experienced some asking her to take down three star reviews which they interpreted as negative.

As an author and reviewer myself, I review every book I read on Amazon and Goodreads. I will give a book 5 stars only if it hooked me, kept me enthralled, made me want to read on, answered the questions the author posed, AND delivered a strong, satisfying end. If all those things above are present, but the end does not satisfy, I will downgrade a star rating. I think you can in some way define an author’s theme, worldview, mindset (at the time of writing, anyway) from the way they choose to end a novel.

But having said this, I will admit to a challenge when I came to write the end of my novel Mystical Circles (out in a new edition with a new cover on 5 September). Ideally I would have liked to give two alternative endings, as John Fowles did in his novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

I don’t like an ending which ties up all the loose strands, and which is unequivocally happy or sad. My ideal ending is bittersweet. As in life, I believe that when all our dreams are fulfilled there will always be other aspects of the situation which have the potential to cause disruption in the future. One of my favourite endings is that to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudicebecause although the central story question is answered positively, it is also bristling with ironic little hints that life is not necessarily going to run smoothly for the main protagonist hereafter.

How I chose to end Mystical Circles was full of challenges because the raison d’etre of the story – a hothouse community called Wheel of Love who have gathered around a charismatic leader to learn how to achieve an ideal existence – derives all its emotional charge and dangerous dynamics from the psychological instability of the group members – and its leader.  The situation I outline in the novel – the attempt by a young woman journalist to rescue her younger sister from a mystical cult – could have a number of outcomes.

I think the key to a successful ending is that it must satisfy, whether it is happy, sad, tragic or bittersweet. I am conscious, too, that an unsatisfying end can undo much of the good work of an author.  As novelists the best we can do is to remain true to ourselves, to what we are trying to say within our stories. Though I admit we often don’t even know what we’re trying to say, until we’ve said it!

And back to reviews again; I love reviews of any star-rating where the reader has clearly read the book thoughtfully, and has genuine opinions to offer about plot, characterisation, theme. On Amazon the healthiest star-rating profile is a triangle with its broad side at the top. I am afraid I feel suspicious of books that have only five stars. Also I am often attracted to the one star reviews. I want to know, “What is the worst that can be said about this novel?” And, quixotically, some of the things said by the one star reviewers make me want to read the book. Human opinions are incredibly diverse, especially about books, and we must all respect that.

Writing, Reading and Reviewing Books For Love

Compassion, respect and kindness are human qualities common to all regardless of any faith position. In this post, I’m making a plea for these three things in the online world of books.

APS on bookshelf at Kenilworth Books 13 Feb 2016 cropped image
Even when readers buy physical books in bricks-and-mortar bookstores they often like to post a review online.

 

Recently I learned from my fellow authors of  something very sad which is happening on Goodreads – which I had previously been totally unaware of. See this article by Anne Rice here.

I have been aware that the dark side of human nature does indeed find outlets for expression on the internet but I had up to now been unconscious of the fact that this affects the world of reviewing books.

In today’s publishing scene, Amazon reviews are of great importance to a writer – though I sometimes wish they weren’t.  The fact remains a new review can lift an author’s spirits, and a lack of reviews can (however mistakenly) feel like rejection.  But it came as a great surprise to me to learn that some people are using their membership of book review sites as an opportunity to express spite, envy and malevolence to others.

I love writing books, reading books and reviewing books.

Every book review  I post online is authentic. It has never occurred to me  to ever post a spurious review or a one star rating simply to hurt someone else.

My own personal rules of book reviewing are as follows:

  1.  I never post one star reviews. If a book genuinely warrants such a rating, I would be most unlikely to even read it all the way through, and I would simply choose not to post a review at all.
  2. I generally give 4 or 5 star reviews and sometimes 3 star. Perhaps I’m over-generous with my star-ratings. Or perhaps it’s down to the fact that I have an instinct to choose books I know I’ll enjoy reading.
  3. I write reviews because I enjoy it; never to criticise, condemn or discourage.

As authors, we write for love –

  1. for love of expressing oneself through the written word, because we have something to say and because we feel compelled to write – regardless of worldly success
  2. for love of creating characters, allowing our imaginations free rein with our created world writing dialogues, entering new worlds.

So I hope that book reviewers would also write for love.

“Love”, by the way, means respect for others, authenticity and honesty: and it includes constructive criticism. It also means reading a book all the way through before writing your opinion of it on a permanent online platform like Goodreads or Amazon.

If you’re an author to whom online reviews are important, I’d love to have your comments on this subject.