Thursday, February 28, 2013

Perfect Ending?

Lately I have been reconsidering the ending to my latest novel, Finding Father.  Most of my readers have told me that they like the ending, and several have said they would like to see a sequel.  I considered this a compliment and thought that it was a good plan to end a novel with the readers wanting more.  But recently a professional who read the book told me that I ended the story too early, that I didn't show enough of the romance, and that I left several of the secondary conflicts unresolved - in particular the tension between the hero and the girl's mother.

I know as a reader that I like to feel a sense of closure at the end of a novel.  One of my favorite books, Gone With the Wind, had a very open ending, with Scarlett and Rhett actually separating and Scarlett planning how she could win him back. But it is difficult to pull off an ending like that, and I don't pretend to be anything close to Margaret Mitchell in literary prowess. So it's possible that, in leaving my ending somewhat open, I was being a bit too ambitious.

On the other hand, I want my story to be believable, and in real life many difficult relationships never become happy, close, and loving. I've also read novels in which characters who spend the whole book fighting and hating each other suddenly fall into each other's arms in the last chapter. To me, this sort of pat, unrealistic resolution is worse than anything. I would rather read a book in which some tension and conflict remain at the end than feel that the author sacrificed truth and realism for a "happy ending."

So that brings me back to the ending of Finding Father. Can I find a resolution between Steve and Bonnie that is satisfying, but doesn't feel trite and contrived?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Downton Abbey

Like half the female population of the United States, during the last six months I have become engrossed in the PBS series Downton Abbey.  I watched the first two seasons on DVD at least twice each, and now am watching Season 3 every Sunday night on PBS.  Sometimes I watch the same episode two or three times during the week if I can squeeze it into my schedule and steal the television from the males in the family. I'm sure I'm not the only American who would love to relocate to England and be adopted by the Crawley family (if we could figure out a way to travel in time!)

Although Downton Abbey is a television series instead of a book, one characteristic that it shares with many novels is its excellent characters. Each character is distinctive in personality and his or her way of responding to crises, and yet none are unrealistic and few are idealized. As I watched the most recent episode on Sunday night, I pondered which character I admire the most, and came to a surprising conclusion.

As I watched the various characters react to the most recent crises in the story, I decided that Matthew's mother Isobel Crawley is the character that I would most like to emulate. She is one of the less glamorous women in the story, maybe because she is middle-aged and comes from a prosaic middleclass background.  When she first appeared in the story soon after Matthew learned he was the new heir to the estate, I felt a bit  sorry for her because of the way she was patronized and looked down upon by some of the other women, especially Violet.  But Isobel never let herself be intimidated by the difference in wealth and class.  She was so confident, but was also very gracious and courteous.

Isobel always acts according to her own principles, even when others criticize and disagree.  I especially admire the way she cares about Ethel Parks. So many of the other characters want to shun Ethel because of her fall into sin, but Isobel actually hired her as a cook in order to give her another chance in life.  Although Downton Abbey isn't a Christian story, I see Isobel Crawley as the most Christian character in her attitudes and outlook on life.