I’m going to admit to something.
I will often go read the end of a book waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before the middle. Sometimes I will read it after I’ve only read a couple of chapters. Many times I have stood in the store, read the opening, flipped to the end and read it, then bought the book.
[Waiting for the flailing and the heart attacks to subside.]
Back with me?
I know, it’s kinda like hearing someone licks the toothpaste tube before they re-cap it, or eats dessert before breakfast.
I know. [You want to watch a bunch of writers’ heads spin around? Admit this at a conference. I have several friends who think I’m nuts.] [Okay, probably most of my friends think I’m nuts, but we aren’t going to talk about that today.]
It never really occurred to me, to be honest, that this might not be the natural way of things until friends’ gaped at me when I mentioned it. I mean, I was the kid who opened her Christmas presents ahead of time, played with them, then re-wrapped them for my parents to see under the tree. Every night. All the way up ’til Christmas morning. The first few years, they thought I had an uncanny ability to guess what was in each gift. Then, once they caught on, my dad tried several tricks to stop me. He once marked every present so that all of the marks lined up with each other a certain way, so that if I unwrapped them and wrapped them back again, the marks would not line up. I saw the marks–he’d actually done it. Then I realized a couple of nights later… after experimenting with a couple of boxes… that he wasn’t going to remember where he put those marks, so I unwrapped them, played with them, re-wrapped and put new marks, all lining up. The next year, they hid the presents at a neighbor’s house. In the neighbor’s attic.
So. Yeah. Reading the end first. Never even gonna feel guilty about that.
The first time I admitted this to someone, they were slightly horrified. [Slightly being defined as a wide-eyed double-take that may have been accompanied by an, "Are you NUTS?"] And they have continued to be horrified. Some of them even outed me to friends [coughAllisoncough] [where, I am gleeful to note, I am not the only one].
One of the big concerns–and something I’ve been teased about–is that all the careful planning I put into a book is totally ruined by people like me, who go read that end first, who don’t take the trip as the author has planned it and therefore, cannot be surprised. And my gut reaction is this: if someone can go read the end of my book and know everything they need to know to understand the story? I didn’t build in enough surprises anyway. They should read that end and think, "Wow, I’m missing something here, who is this guy / gal, why are they important here?" or "Wow, that’s bizarre, I wonder why they’re even there?" or "Holy crap, they just did what? Why?"
The truth is, the ending of a book sells the reader on the next book. But it also–if it’s done its job–makes the reader feel vindicated for having plunked down their money on this book. They should leave the story feeling immensely satisfied and surprised, feel as if the story couldn’t have turned out any other way, that it was organic, and yet, they did not see it happening like that.
The other truth is, you, as a writer, have no control over the crazy people like me, who will read the end first. I think the most difficult thing I had to accept as a writer was that sometimes, people weren’t going to read my book all in one sitting. [gasp] [real life, how dare it get in the way?] I write the book to be read as this mounting tension, the intense build of crosses and double crosses and humor which builds on other layers of humor, and if someone stops and starts a few times, that rhythm is broken. It’s like listening to a song a few lines at a time over several days: it just does not have the same impact like that as was originally intended.
So, what I take from this — and from crazy people like me — is that the ending has got to have that wow factor. If someone reads the first chapter and then reads the end, they’ve got to be confused and, at the same time, feel a sense of confidence in me… they’ve got to sense that I have confidence in where I’m taking them, and that it’s not predictable. And it’s got to be satisfying.
My analogy is the roller coaster ride. I know how the ride ends before I get on the thing. I want to see where those little cars roll in so that I know those people lived. I once was literally flying out of one the cars as a teenager on a roller coaster ride when our high school group went to Astroworld. Had the boy next to me not realized it and grabbed my ankles as they went past the safety bar… I was airborne… I’d have been out of the ride. I learned to hold on. [Didn’t stop me from riding.]
So, how about you? Read the end before the rest of the book? Wouldn’t dream of it? What other reading pet peeves do you have?
I have the absolute THRILL to announce that, starting next Sunday, Allison Brennan will be alternating Sundays with me. She’s not only a terrific friend, she’s one of the stellar bloggers around and I’m honored that she’s going to be here. Plus, she’s just a damned fine writer, so she’s always got great insights.
Gustav: as I write this, all hatches have been battened, supplies laid in, stores with empty shelves gape vacantly into the night, and people are evacuating. I’m keeping tabs on friends trying to fly out right now from N.O. International, including our own Alex and friend of Murderati Nancie–hopefully, by the time this posts in the morning, they will be safely on a plane. Thank you for all the kind emails–much appreciated.