Thursday, September 10, 2009

How to begin an ending

I just finished reading a fantasy series that was firmly grounded in the real world, and at the end, I was crying.  I'm pretty sure I wasn't crying just because it turned into an alternate history series. 

Alternate history "What ifs" are difficult to pull off, and I think maybe the twist shouldn't have worked in this particular case because the series was so well-grounded in the time period, and it used foreshadowing and built momentum for the inevitable ending so thoroughly that I should have felt let down when history changed, but I didn't.  Instead, I felt a keen sense of loss because the alternate history the books ended on didn't happen in the real world, and I wish it had.  I look forward to rereading the whole series knowing the ending to see if that changes how I read as I go along. 

Some books and series don't have much reread value once you know the end; others do.  Sometimes it's because the writing is so excellent, the ending didn't really matter that much.  Sometimes the characters are so great, you just want to spend time with them again.  Sometimes, though, you read because the momentum of the plot propels you toward the ending, and once you reach it, that's all.  Now you know what happened and can go on with your life.

I've been observing this as I'm trying to figure out how to start a particular story.  In the end, someone dies, but it's not the person you spend most of the book thinking it will be.  In most western (genre) fiction, spoiling the ending means saying who dies or who did it in the beginning.  If you know that, why read the book? 

I've heard and viewed and read alternate arguments about Japanese storytelling (novels, anime, manga).  Knowing what happens in the next episode or at the end of the book doesn't matter to them; it doesn't spoil things, necessarily.  How things lead up to it are equally if not more important. 

I've been considering starting the novel with the end, partly in deference to my sister, who wants to know who makes it to the end so she can avoid getting attached to those who don't, but partly because I don't want to be accused of one of those crappy twist endings that irritate modern readers so much.  Other people argue that if I tell it well enough, it shouldn't really BE a surprise, but since I'm the sort of reader who never thinks ahead to try to figure things out, I would be surprised unless I'm so obvious about it that it's lame.  Sigh.

So, any books you really liked reading but will never read again because you know the end?  Any that have particularly great reread value even if (maybe because) you know the end?

1 comment:

  1. And you're going to leave us hanging without telling us the name of the series you just finished?? :)

    For me, the list of books I will eventually reread is much, much longer than the books I'll only read once. My memory is crappy, so I can experience books for (almost) the first time if I wait a year or two before rereading.

    Also, if I choose not to reread a story, it's rarely because of the ending. It's more because the world or the characters didn't draw me in. Even mediocre writing won't put me off too much if the story's good. Now, if the story was good, but the ending stinks, sometimes I'll just naturally stop reading before the end. (This just happened with Heinlein's Glory Road.)