Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sometimes You Never Know


I like leaving things hanging a bit in my writing. I suppose because in RL, I don’t worry too much anymore about the drive to understand every why of every action that impacts my life…I don’t so much subscribe to the old “Shit Happens” bumpersticker. I’m not that cynical. I used to say “Magic Happens” but I’ve grown up a bit less mystical. (Not that I don’t disbelieve, in the long run, that all of it isn’t magic. (Hee, hee, triple negative!) Just takes time and distance to discover what that spell was.)


But I do know that, well…stuff happens. And in RL you don’t always know why. Hell, sometimes you don’t even know how!

But that is RL. Now, with books…it’s tricky to have things just happen to characters without some closure. I mean, one can leave some things hanging, but not the big things. I mean, if the husband leaving the wife and family is a central plot point in the book, I suppose an author better deal with it to some extent. (I might not, but that is me.) (Twisted.)

If the question is why did she drink so much at the party and then dance with that guy she hated…well, that might be important, it might not. The dancing with the guy is the important part, right? Not the why did she get drunk in the first place. I mean, I’d be asking does she really hate him? Why did he ask her? Does it matter with what happens next? (And yes, I might include it even if it didn’t relate directly to what happens next…because it might communicate something about her. Or him.)

Now, I tend to leave threads hanging in my books. Sometimes, it’s because I forgot they were there.

Guilty as charged.

Sometimes, it’s because I’m leaving things for the next book.


Sometimes, well, I’m making a point. Not knowing and dealing with the not knowing is an important life lesson for a character to learn.

Randomness happens, ya know!?

I don’t think I would shy away from leaving most anything unanswered, if I decided I had a reason for it. I’m a bit stubborn with that.

For example, in my books, I keep being asked to tell the story in detail of Davis, the werewolf. And I shrug. Could be I don’t know his story yet… Sometimes it’s a mystery and that’s why questions are unanswered. I’ve insinuated that he’s important to the pack on Tortuga, but never gone into the details. But I’d dangled…why is he important?

Sometimes you don’t know!


During the editing of book three, my editor wanted me use the term undead in place of vampire. And I said, “No. I haven’t decided if the vampires are undead yet.” Hey, sometimes I’m learning the story as I go and this is something I haven’t quite figured out yet about the vampires of the Kraken’s Caribbean.

I left a big thread hanging after the third book with a new character, Lee. And my editor, when I said I was thinking of a short for Lee, e-mailed me back, practically screaming, “YES!” at the top of her lungs. She hadn’t asked about it, but it was obviously on her mind.

Nice to make her so happy!

What do you think is unforgivable when it comes to dangling threads? To not answering the big WHY question? Have you done it? And do you know why?


Annie West said...

My pet peeve is a thread that's not left dangling but is brushed aside. When an author tells us the hero and heroine are motivated by certain goals and those goals keep them in sustained conflict for the whole book it's incredibly deflating if, at the end, one of them suddenly decides without any explanation or reason the reader can see, that their goal wasn't important. So frustrating!

hal said...

I like to have some things left up in the air, just because having *everything* tied up in a neat little bow is a little too perfect for me. So I'm okay with some unanswered questions.

But I'm with Annie on the fact that there are some things which must be explained or answered, or else the story falls apart. Not explaining a goal or motivation or major change in the character would infuriate me!

At the same time, I read this awesome mystery novel where there were two primary mysteries being solved - the present day murder story, and this weird mystery from the proatgonist's childhood that had never been solved. At first, they thought it was the same suspect. But at the end, realized it wasn't, and realized they still had no answer to the childhood mystery. Personally, I loved it, because the present-day murder mystery was solved, but the bizarre childhood mystery was left completely up in the air. Many readers were SUPER pissed, but I personally loved it.

Bosun said...

For me, depends on the threads. I'm with Annie in that the level of resolution has to fit the level of conflict. Though making the resolution a little too easy is a fault of mine.

In romance I'd say the most common dangling thread is the hint at a secondary romance that sets up the next story. I can live with those, so long as they don't overshadow the main story.

And I'm one who will pester you for Davis' story. And I haven't even read books 2 & 3 yet!

2nd Chance said...

Annie - I totally get what you're saying...that is more like unresolved GMC...maybe even dangling GMC. And it's hard to ignore. Don't have entire book spin around a huge goal of revenge and then it just gets dropped. "OH, I found love and there is no longer room in my heart for revenge!"

Damn straight that won't fly, Mary Sunshine. Not if the whole flipping book danced to that tune. Get on with it!


Hal - Hmmmm, not sure I'd be able to handle the not solving one of the mysteries, but it depends on how well it was done! And if it was treated like it might be addressed in another book...those I can handle!

Bo'sun - Oh, yeah. I remember the last Angelique book I read, where a mysterious woman arrives, washed up by the tides on the shores of the new world. And you can tell, the Comte is mesmerized by her. There's the plot of the next book! (Which I never read.)

Davis will have his day! And trust me, it's the question I get asked the most...what about Davis? You'd think I tied a knot in his tail and set it on fire!

Janga said...

I don't mind irresolute endings in literary fiction, but I feel cheated by them in genre fiction. In romance, I want the HEA, not the HFN; in mystery, I want the murder solved. However, I don't like deus ex machina endings or those in which I see the author's hand too clearly tying the loose ends with maximum speed and efficiency. But even frustration with endings pales in comparison to killing off characters for whom the author has encouraged reader engagement. That's the unpardonable authorial sin for me--well, one of them. Boredom's unpardonable too.

2nd Chance said...

Killing off beloveds are hard, I agree. Though sometimes necessary. but man if you're gonna do it, make it work! Do it with full involvement of everyone.

Boredom? Well, yeah, that's pretty much a non-starter.

And I read mysteries...I'm a bit up and down on the solving everything. Often, in the series types, there's a thread they are slowly working out. I'm big on not dragging this too long. Because that just gets boring...

Bosun said...

Janga - I know you read YA as well. I'm guessing the HFN ending works for you in those books?

Kiddo read me the end of The Lullabye by Sarah Dessen last night. She mentioned the authors always leaves you with something to think about, which seems like a smart move when writing about HS students. Those books are not going to end in weddings. Not usually, I assume.

2nd Chance said...

Hee, hee...depends on the area of the country their set in?

Donna said...

I'm not a big fan of loose threads, because I want to finish a book knowing everybody's happy and I don't have to worry about them anymore. LOL It may not reflect real-life, but I don't want my reading to do that. I want it to deflect it. :)

I started the first book of a series that I thought was great, and I really enjoyed the romance developing between the hero and the heroine. BUT, they ended it with some kind of thing to keep them apart, and I assume it was so there would be "conflict" for the series. They lost me as a reader though. I felt cheated, and much as I liked the characters, I didn't care whether they got a HEA after they did a bait-and-switch on me. LOL

2nd Chance said...

I'm up and down on that sort of play, Donna. I mean, I get it...sorta...if the series is a continuing thing. But I'm not a fan of the keep the couple apart and continually throw new spanners into their romance. I like the couple as a couple central to a series. Doesn't mean they have to take a back seat in the next book!

But I'm told that doesn't usually work with most series...everyone wants the HEA and then move on to a new couple.

What bugs me more are books in a series that ends at book one with the couple...and opens in book two with the same couple, months later, no longer a couple.


I don't know, Donna, maybe you and are cut out for reading series?

But I like series...well, mysteries...and I do write series...

You know, I need more caffeine! I'm meandering way to much this morning!

But I get it, Donna...I think! ;-)

Bosun said...

I'm with Donna. Don't bait and switch me. If you tell me "Read this book, it's a Romance!" then I have certain expectations. One of those being a HEA.

But I'm with you too, Chance. I checked out an author website once to see if I might want to read her books. In book one, she got the guy. In book two, decided maybe that wasn't the guy for her. I immediately knew I'd never read those books. That's a deal breaker for me. And if I'd read book one before knowing what happened in book two, I'd have been PISSED.

Donna said...

I love series' books. But maybe the bait-and-switch one pissed me off because I didn't have the expectation of it being like that. I thought it was a regular ole romance. I think I would have done some serious book-throwing if I'd left the couple in Book 1 all happy and then in Book 2 they weren't a couple anymore. Aaaugh!

2nd Chance said...

It is pretty bait and switch and it drives me crazy...some of the paranormal series that go on and one with this guy, then that guy... I sometimes think I'm the only person out there who believes one can maintain tension, sexual/sensual tension, with the same couple for years or decades...and keep them a couple! While writing wonderful things for them to be involved in.

Things that don't involved bringing in other guys or girls to threaten their relationship.

I've dropped series for doing that. And been miffed with the leave a third wheel...who was the first wheel...on the sidelines. I hate it when they sell me on a couple and in book four...someone new steps in.

I'm not so much dependent of the HEA, but when I feel a couple has been taken apart just to satisfy marketing...I'm furious.

Because, let's face it...usually it's for marketing purposes.

Bosun said...

Nora is the only one who pulls it off. At least that I know of. But Nora is pretty much the exception to every rule. She's just that damn good.

2nd Chance said...

Well, A Caribbean Spell has the same central couple for 30 books! So I pull it off...I think. Will hopefully find out one of these days!

Bosun said...

BUT you're couple doesn't exactly live in our reality. You can throw things like giant sea monsters and spanning the time warp continuum at them. Or something like that.

2nd Chance said...

spanning the time warp continuum at them

Nicely said!

Nora's couple doesn't live in the RW... Okay, closer to the RW than mine time warp continuum problems for them!

hal said...

I think I would have done some serious book-throwing if I’d left the couple in Book 1 all happy and then in Book 2 they weren’t a couple anymore.

Oh I HATE that! That happened to me once, where I was all gooey over the HEA, then picked up book 2, and in the interim, he'd cheated on and her she'd dumped him. I was freaking pissed! Needless to say, I did not finish the series.

2nd Chance said...

I'm friends with a well-known author who did that and she admitted, she had to do to keep the series going. I could have argued with her that no, she didn't...but why bother?

I personally don't think her series will die if she brings the two of them together...but obviously her editor/publishing company/whoever does.

Irisheyes said...

I like things neat and tidy. I like all lose ends tied up and I definitely want my HEA. I remember when I first started reading romances again I kept looking for clues as to how I would know that I would get my HEA. I was so afraid I would stumble upon an "Oprah Book Club" read (not that there's anything wrong with an "Oprah Book Club" read. I'm sure they're excellent, thought provoking, emotional reads. I just didn't want to be dragged through the wringer and then left depressed afterward.) I didn't even know that there were books out there that guaranteed a HEA. I thought it was a crap shoot. Now I won't settle for anything less.

I remember being pretty upset when I found out Lorraine Heath wouldn't be writing a story for a couple of secondary characters in her Scoundrels of St. James series. You know how you read a series and you pick up on a secondary romance and you know the author is saving that couple for last cause you think it's going to be the best. Well, that's what I thought about Graves and Winnie in that series. I was sure I saw all the signs. I just figured their book was a foregone conclusion. Then I read that she wasn't even planning a book for either of them - together or separate. I was kind of blown away.

I also read a book that had the heroine being maligned by every one in this small town. She was being unjustly looked down upon and blamed for something that was in no way her fault. There was a big misunderstanding that was perpetuated and brought up at every opportunity to make her life difficult. Well in the end I was not only waiting for her HEA with the hero I wanted some comeuppance (?) for every small minded hateful person in that town, especially her former in-laws. I was waiting for the big showdown where everyone had to apologize or be held accountable for making her life miserable. It never happened. I was furious. Especially in a book that is more women's fiction than romance. The scenes with everyone else in her life are just as important.

2nd Chance said...

Irish...that is a big one! I mean, if the maligning was central to character development and it was never really dealt with...I might be a bit pissed, too.

Though if her learning to prosper despite all the crap was part of her life lessons and that was gone in to with some depth, I could buy it. As I said, sometimes you don't know and the lesson you learn is moving forward despite the 'stuff' happening.

I do know, in RL, one seldom gets that wonderful comeuppance...but one does learn to live with the idea that 'flourishing is the best revenge."

Irisheyes said...

This isn't about a book, but a movie... I wandered down into the man cave the other night and my DH was channel surfing. He stopped on The Last of the Mohicans . I sat down and proceeded to complain to him him how I couldn't watch this movie again, as I begged him not to change the channel while my eyes were glued to the screen! LOL

Spoilers ahead for those of you who haven't seen this 19 year old movie *LOL* ...

We ended up watching almost the whole movie (he happen to catch it only 20 minutes into it). I LOVE Daniel Day-Lewis in that movie but was so mad when they killed Uncas and Alice at the end. I wanted it to be a mini-series where I could go back and watch their relationship continue to grow. The movie ended and I was pissed again! Of course, my DH tired to be logical about it and wondering why I would watch a movie that is depressing and pisses me off. To which I had to explain that I like part of it but the ending drives me insane! I should have just stopped it and imagined my own ending, but it's like a car wreck - knowing what's coming and not being able to look away. He didn't get it! Then he was looking at me like I was nuts for even caring about two characters that had under about 5 minutes of combined screen time together.

2nd Chance said...

I'm trying to think of a movie where that happened for me...and coming up totally dry. Though it might have been fun if Debbie had found a match after the second Addams Family movie and not been turned into a flaming match.

But that's my sense of humor. Never mind.

I never saw Last of the Mohicans...but it sounds like you need to take charge and write the story you didn't get to see. Period. I mean let's face it, that wasn't a dangling thread, that was a clean slice through the neck!

Hellion said...

In stand-alones, I expect ends to be tied up, things explained (GMC explained properly), and little "And then a miracle happened" a la Albert Brooks. I mean, I realize when we're writing the book, basically a miracle does happen because we just didn't know. *LOL* But I don't want to feel like it was that way as the reader.

In series, I expect loose ends...I expect the writer doesn't know everything, even when she gets to the end of the series. She still better tie them up at the end of the series, or they better be insignificant enough that I don't care. Though JK Rowling had several loose ends and the woman never hears the end of it. So you can do what you want, but people are going to bitch.

If you're going to kill someone in the book, it better be foreshadowed. Don't have the cancer victim rally and we think something good happen, then he trips down some stairs and breaks his neck. I will find where you sleep and torture you. Same goes with couples. If you foreshadow a couple getting together and then weenie out of it because "they were too alike", I'm not recommending your books anymore. Even if that couple had as much face time as Uncas and Annie in LOTM. I mean, hello, look how many of us are going, "That's so unfair!"

Though pretty sure Cooper wrote it that Annie lives and Cora dies--so think how bad of a screw up that would have been! I don't think boys believe in HEA. Ever. But that's a different discussion.

Bosun said...

I'm with Irish on the comeuppance, but I also had the same reaction Chance did. In RL, those buttheads rarely get their comeuppance. But books are not RL so we should get to see the comeuppance there. That's a tough one.

But I agree in a book like that, all of her interactions matter. Not just with her hero.

I've never watched LOTM all the way through. No idea why. Maybe a little too real for me. Stories like that give me heart palpatations. LOL!

2nd Chance said...

Maybe the trick is...don't promise your reader what you won't deliver. It's like having someting on the menu but not serving it.

If it looks like comeuppance is at hand, you better lower the hand of god and make it happen. If you make it plain that it isn't going to happen...but she'll be fine despite that...fine. I can handle it.

Now me? I'd probably have a time vortex thingy appear and such all the nasty people into an alternative dimension where air is replaced by the flatulence of gorillas...

2nd Chance said...

I don't think I put Bonnie off any longer. And I really need to get something substantial to eat. So...we are outta here! Be back later to address any controversy!

Marnee Bailey said...

I am with Hal and Annie - I don't like brushed aside threads and I can't stand unexplained motivations or character things that are unexplained.

One of my big gripes with Harry Potter is that Voldemort doesn't have a lot of motivation. He had a bad childhood so he's trying to make up for it. Or, she threw in a bit of, "there's all sorts of crazy in his lineage." Which, ok, whatever.... But he could have stood a little more explanation. He was bad as a kid and just got worse. Not much to go on.

Bosun said...

But I thought Voldemort's motivation was the darkness than ran in his family (like a genetic defect) and the fact he never knew real love or friendship.

That's from the movies and only reading book 6. So I should just shut up.

Janga said...

Ter, yes, HFN is what I expect in YA. But it's all about expectations. Adolescents are very much in process, and the characters aren't ready for HEAs. I don't think I'd buy a HEA for YA characters. And no weddings, please! OTOH, I admit I love the epilogue in the final Harry Potter.

Chance, Margaret Maron has been my favorite mystery writer for years. I reread her Deborah Knott books to study characterization. The 17th book in the series releases tomorrow. She solved the relationship problem not with a triangle but by having Deborah involved in several relationships through the early novels and then developing a romance with a life-long friend in the 8th book. The following books show their relationship developing and the problems they confront with career conflicts and family. Dorothy Simpson's Luke Thanet series follows Thanet from the time when he's a young father to the last book where he becomes a grandfather and gives her readers a realistic look at the ups and downs of a good marriage along the way. Simpson's last book was released more than a decade ago, but the younger Maron and Deborah Knott are still going strong. Julia Spencer-Fleming and Marie Force are doing the same sort of things with their characters.

Hellion said...

I always thought Voldemort's motivation was power or fame (or both), which I think is one of the fundamental motivators for people. I also let Rowling explain away the 2-dimensional quality of Voldy due to her work at Amnesty International, which she talks about in her commencement speech at Harvard. I really think she believes there is absolute evil in the world and there is no excuse or explanation for some people why they engage in it. You have some kids that are raised with money and every opportunity, but turn out evil--why? Can you blame the childhood?

Fiction-wise, yes, Voldemort is a 2-dimensional. In real life, he very well exists, evil for evil's sake. In his choices. He's supposed to be a foil to Harry, who has the same circumstances, but chooses differently. But then I still think Harry had the advantage: we all know Harry's parents loved him. Voldemort's parents never did.

I also thought Voldemort was as 2-dimensional as he was because, well, it was children's fiction. I always figured children's fiction had more black and white in its characters than adult fiction might have. And also it's popular fiction, which requires more black and white in the characterization.

Hellion said...

Book 6 is the book that talks the most about Voldemort and why he is how he is--so you've got a good handle on it. :)

2nd Chance said...

Marn - I'm guilty of villains being bad well, just because they are bad. Sociopath are just sociopaths. But with a real story, spanning generations, I guess I'd want a bit more than he was genetically disposed to be a villain... Especially, if I understand it, they really did dwelve into the rest of the characters and what brought them where they were.

We probably need Hel's input here...

Janga, I'll have to put her on my list of mystery authors to look for. As long as they aren't too thick...I've become terribly page shy. Though I read all of Ashley Gardner's Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries last week...all 7. They weren't long, but I couldn't stop at one... If I'd faced them as one volume I probably would have run away screamig... (AG is actually another penname for Jennifer Ashley...she is so prolific. I want to be her when I grow up!)

2nd Chance said...

And look who snuck in and answered the Voldy questions!

Janga said...

Chance, Bootlegger's Daughter is the first Deborah Knott book. It won the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, and the Macavity Awards. I don't know if any other book has ever won all four.

2nd Chance said...

That is impressive! I'll put it on my list to look for!

Enid Wilson said...

I once watched a telemovie and the baddie got away, big time. It got me so angry. I think justice has to be served when we read a book because real life can be so shitty. We want a better world in the literary stage. So hanging thread is ok but injustice, I can't stand it...

My Darcy Mutates

Bosun said...

So I wasn't so far off. Ha!

Enid - That goes to show any genre has its expectations. I think most mystery readers (or watchers) expect the mystery to be solved. Why read if you don't get the answer in the end?!

2nd Chance said...

I totally agree that mysteries must solve the basic stuff. You bet! But I sorta like having some mystery left in a standard book. Not too much, just enough!