Fear of disappointing readers: write it your way anyway

On VentureGalleries.com I commented on June 12:

“Did I say somewhere, ‘Trust yourself’? Because that’s where I am. I know exactly where I want to go – and I’m scared to get out of the very bottom of the pit. And I’m going to do it anyway.”

If I can’t write 16.1, I might as well shoot myself and get it over with.

That bad? Yes.

I’m just scared – of all this buildup and then fizzling out.

Models: what the writer is hoping to make the reader feel

When we get to the end we have to be feeling, ‘Noooooo!’ exactly as we did when Scarlett vowed to think about it tomorrow.

Were we disappointed when, after all that, Scarlett DIDN’T get Rhett? No – we demanded that MM gives us the rest of the story (as people demand GRR Martin give them the rest of the story).

It is okay: fear of disappointing readers is just fear.

Resistance to writing the book’s planned end

Resistance (Steven Pressfield, Do the Work, and others) has coughed up one more way to block writing, but the thing is, fear of disappointing some readers is just fear, disguised another way.

Stories have ends that are presaged in their beginnings (if you look carefully enough).

When we get to the end of Gone With the Wind, 1468 pages in paperback, do we swear at Margaret Mitchell and throw the book across the room?

We do not.

Scarlett and Rhett – over?

The feeling was so intense at the end of that story that I remember it after almost fifty years: not only was the ride wild, and long, but I did NOT want it to be over, and it could not be possible that after ALL that, Scarlett would not figure out some way of getting Rhett back – after all, they were married, weren’t they?

Things were bleak, all right, but she HAD to find a way – and she would, after she had rested at her beloved Tara, and in the future, there would be happiness and rejoicing for our plucky heroine – and the man she had finally learned to love, and…

I refused to read the ‘sequel’ – which turned out to be roundly despised in many circles. Don’t tell me about it, please – I only want to know how Margaret Mitchell finished her story. Because she kept me on the edge of my seat for all those pages, and it wasn’t fair that she was never going to get to the real end of her story. It STILL isn’t.

The author’s original intent

I’m a purist: I don’t read books where someone other than the original author tries to continue the story. They should go do their own stories. Period.

I have that feeling for anything not in the original medium, as well – I would never read the Star Wars novels which are supposed to continue the story – even if they are authorized by George Lucas personally. I may be disappointed in the supposed episodes I, II, and III – which I believe did not carry on the promise of the three original movies – but I watched them. I don’t know if I will watch the Disney version of the rest of the saga. I suspect not.

Call it artistic integrity. Call it snobbery. I’m not sure exactly what I call it – but I won’t read fan fiction (except for one tiny exception written by one of my best friends), and I will not read the stories written in the Wool universe. If Hugh Howey doesn’t write it, it won’t be right. For me.

I tried once, WAY back: I read The Seven Percent Solution, and I was horribly disappointed: it wasn’t right. It wasn’t the same detective I had in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Right or wrong, if I love an author’s books, I love only that author writing those books. Even if it means I will never find out about the giant rat of Sumatra. If necessary, I’ll ask Sherlock Holmes about that story when I get to heaven. Or Doyle, if Holmes is really fictional.

Artistic integrity

I can’t foist my idiosyncrasies on you, dear reader. But I can and will be true to myself. I will persevere. I will write my ending – the one I’ve been angling you toward this whole trip, and I will stand by it. That’s all I can do.

Thing is, if you, dear reader, will continue on with me, to the place where I have finished ALL I have planned – God give me time and courage – then I hope you WILL feel vindicated, will NOT throw the books across the room, and will have that same satisfaction that I had when I got to the very end the first time, and knew that, though every little detail wasn’t worked out yet, the stepping stones formed a complete path across the raging river, and I was safely home.

That is the very same feeling I had when I reached the end of another amazing story, Busman’s Honeymoon. If you’ve read it, and loved Peter Wimsey and his Harriet, you’ll know what I mean. If not, maybe I can show you. Sayers isn’t perfect – no writer is – but she knew how to satisfy a reader. This reader, anyway.

Do you agree the ending must FIT?

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4 thoughts on “Fear of disappointing readers: write it your way anyway

  1. juliabarrett

    Yes, the ending must fit. I so wanted Scarlet to go after Rhett but at the same time I wanted to simply live with the assumption that she would, she did, and he would believe in her love and take her back. However I didn’t need to ‘know’ for sure.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The critical part was always that SCARLETT had not figured it out.

      She was a determined little minx – you knew she’d find a way. You HOPED she’d find away. But she couldn’t do any of that without the realization first, so I guess we got half an answer.

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  2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    One of my long-time friends (we met in 1984) happens to be a fan of my fiction. (Nice when that happens!) She adored my novella, Sarvet’s Wanderyar. Absolutely adored it, couldn’t praise it enough. This was lovely until I started the sequel, Livli’s Gift. Not only did I worry about disappointing her, but she worried as well. Which made me worry more.

    Somehow I managed to immerse myself completely in the story while I wrote it and to fence off my worries. I indulged them only when I wasn’t writing.

    As it turned out, I didn’t disappoint her. She loves Livli’s Gift and is now eagerly looking forward to my third book in the series (which I plan to start as soon as I get through the edits on my most recently completed WIP, Hunting Wild).

    That “write with the door closed” bit of advice from Stephen King can require serious effort and commitment!

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      You are blessed with a friend and a fan – I wouldn’t hold it against anyone to prefer other reading material that mine – everyone is different.

      But it’s very nice to have ‘true fans’ who also get you. Because not only do you have to write well, you have to write something in a genre they like.

      I have lovely friends who will never read my stuff, and hope for perfect strangers who don’t care about me but like my writing and choice of topics. You can’t survive on only the first kind – good friends – and I don’t yet know how the attracting of perfect strangers is going to go.

      I’m basically worrying about the future – which I have NO control over. Very silly. And potentially crippling. So I write it down, get on with work.

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