What’s Wrong with Inconclusive Endings?

Last week, 700,000 television viewers in Ireland watched a series about a missing teenager called Amber. The series ended up being a big water-cooler topic, particularly the ending, which left more questions than answers. I hopped on the bandwagon and posted the following comment on Facebook.

A note to the producers of the TV series Amber. If you are asking your audience to commit to watching a drama for four nights in a row, have the decency to reward that audience with a solid conclusion.

Shock horror, not all my Facebook followers agreed with me! They raised valid points about how the ending reflected real life, which often offers no conclusion. Since the series was about a missing person case, it made sense to them that the case should be left unresolved. But I stand by my view that, to borrow the title of a Julian Barnes novel, these viewers deserved ‘the sense of an ending.’

Here’s why I think inconclusive endings are a bad idea. I’m referring to books, but these points could apply to all forms of storytelling.

1. They don’t reward readers

If someone has followed your through to the end, that’s a great privilege. It means they thought enough of your story to persevere, and they believed enough in the world you created to become immersed in it. I think it’s only fair then that those readers be rewarded for their effort with a sense of resolution. This doesn’t mean the ending has to be trite or happy. It’s just good to feel that a story is complete.

2. They’re Breaking the Rules

It’s true that some stories don’t follow the traditional form, and readers of those stories will probably be happy to be left with an ambiguous ending. It’s also true that once an author knows the rules, they’re free to break them. But if you are following the traditional beginning-middle-end format in a greater or lesser form, then you need to follow them through to the end. Otherwise you’re in danger of implying that rules are just for the little people.

 3. They Drop the Ball

When a story ends ambiguously, it can sometimes feel as if an author ran out of steam or didn’t quite know what to do to finish off the story, so they simply allow the story to putter to a halt. We have a lot of expectations of endings, so we like our build-ups to finish in a satisfying explosion. Authors need to stay with their own story to the end, not just 90% of the way.

Are you a fan of the inconclusive ending? Or do you prefer your stories wrapped up in a bow? What endings have thoroughly satisfied you and what endings have left you wanting?

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5 Kick-Ass Writing Blogs

There are zillions and zillions of blogs out there about writing. It can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. But over the past few months, I’ve isolated a few that are entertaining and informative, and that meet needs you never knew you had, which is exactly what a good blog should do.

I’m sharing five of them with you in this post and I’ve aimed to include a couple you mightn’t have come across before. Apologies to my international readers for the Irish bias, but I’m confident these blogs will have universal appeal. They share certain ingredients in common: a generous spirit, readability and useful information. Happy reading.

  1. Women Rule Writer, Nuala Ni Chonchuir

For information about writing events

Writer Nuala Ni Chonchuir tirelessly promotes a variety of writing events in her blog, which gives valuable promotional opportunities to other writers and valuable information to her readers. This has helped her build a strong following in the writing community, which she can then use to promote her own fine publications.

  1. Catherine, Caffeinated, Catherine Ryan Howard

For advice on self publishing

This blog is a no holds barred look at the reality of self publishing. It’s packed with hard-won nuggets of advice from a self-published author who is at the coalface of self publishing and has decided to share her experience for the benefit of others. It’s brutally honest, full of biting humour, and bound to make self publishing a lot easier for budding indie authors who need Catherine’s advice.

  1. Carmel Harrington’s Blog

For a masterclass in subtle self promotion

It’s quite an art form to be able to promote yourself without being in your face, but Carmel Harrington makes it look effortless in her blog. She chats about her writing process and about the challenge of combining writing with motherhood in a warm, friendly tone, shot through with flashes of humour. Carmel is also generous to other writers, hosting a guest blog every Wednesday.

  1. Isabel Costello, On the Literary Sofa

For incisive book reviews

If you like to read books with a bit of meat, you’ll get plenty of reading ideas from Isabel Costello’s blog. She writes book reviews with all the rigour that you’d associate with a traditional newspaper critic. She also has a knack for spotting the upcoming books that will be on everyone’s reading lists in the coming months.

  1. Tara Sparling Writes

For a touch of inventiveness

Any blog which gives a retrospective on the top reads of 2014 during the first week of January deserves a second look. Tara Sparling does just that. Her writing is full of playful humour, but she also has a sharp eye to the latest book trends and is happy to share her insights with readers.

What writing blogs do you think readers should know about? They can be Irish or international.

WORDS Writers’ Group

As I’ve said before on this blog, I believe that reading aloud is a lost performance art. That’s why even though I swore off writers’ groups a few years ago, I was drawn by the lure of a new writer’s group set up in my local area that focused on the performance of writing, rather than the critique of it.

WORDS Writers’ Group was set up in the uncharacteristically hot Irish summer of 2013. It’s the brainchild of artists Sean and Miranda Corcoran, who run The Art Hand Studio, nestled on a stretch of unspoilt coastline between Tramore and Bonmahon in Co. Waterford, on the south-east coast of Ireland. People are invited to read pieces of poetry, song lyrics, essays, children’s stories – you name it.

I came to its third meeting and was seduced by the sound of words, by the warm room illuminated by candles and by home-made cakes. Sean Corcoran is a charismatic host (and no, he didn’t pay me to say that!) who creates a warm atmosphere and a sense that anything could happen.

As the most recent meeting came to an end, Sean invited comments from the audience and a poetic type lamented the fact that pleasure seemed to come before critique. I reckon he did it to stir up controversy, and it worked. I was quick to respond by saying it was clear that WORDS was a performance-based writers’ group, and because of that, it attracted what I consider to be record-breaking crowds. (A typical WORDS meeting attracts at least 20 people, compared to 10 at most for your typical critique-based writers’ group).

So what are the attractions of a performance-based writers’ group.

  1. For non-writers

WORDS allows people to share work that isn’t their own, which means that people who don’t write but who love words and literature have the opportunity to share work that they’re passionate about and can make a meaningful contribution. Writers’ groups can come across as elitist, so inviting non-writers to attend widens the appeal of WORDS.

  1. For the beginning writer

Beginning writers can take their first faltering steps towards sharing their newly minted writing in a comfortable environment where they know they won’t be judged. This is an important confidence builder and it will encourage new writers to share their work with the world.

  1. Established Writers

WORDS has quite a few published writers in its ranks, both self published and traditionally published. Reading at the WORDS meetings allows these writers to build up an audience for their work and to network with like-minded souls. After reading from his newly published work, one poet made quite a few sales among the members at the most recent meeting.

Of course there’s always the danger that such a writers’ group can turn into a self congratulation society, and writers do need to seek out rigorous critique that will take their work to the next level. But being able to perform your work is also an important milestone in a writer’s life. Ultimately, there is a place for both critique and performance.

If you’re in the Waterford area, WORDS meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 8pm. There’s a €5 cover charge for refreshments. If you’re not local, you can still join in. Sean is busy forming contacts with similar groups around the world and you can contact him on: info@thearthand.com

Interactive Book Launches

It’s a new year and my blog is back. In keeping with the stormy climate in Ireland, I’ve allowed myself to be deluged by work. But now I’ve emerged from the avalanche and I’m raring to go with a whole new year of blogs in 2014.

But for this blog post, I’m going to look back a bit, to some book launches I went to in 2013. Going to these book launches made me realise that the days of drinking warm wine and listening to a couple of desultory speeches are over. Book launches have become full blown interactive events that offer real entertainment to people in exchange for them buying and supporting the book.

The other notable thing is that even if an author is represented by a traditional publishing house, they don’t leave the organisation up to their publisher any more. They organise the food, the drink and the venue. In every sense, they are the hosts of the event.

I’ll give you a run-down of the launches I went to, to give you an insight into the inventive ways that authors are holding their launches.

  1. Escape from Eire, Jennylynd James

Trinidad native Jennylynd James launched her memoir depicting her seven years in Ireland at a bookshop in Waterford. As well as reading from her book, she displayed photographs on her laptop that acted as a perfect counterpoint to the passages she read. She also showed videos from television appearances she made during her time in Ireland. These interactive elements brought her book to life.

  1. The Priest’s Wife, PJ Connolly

I wandered along to the Irish Writer’s Centre in Dublin about 15 minutes after the start time for PJ Connolly’s launch, expecting to find the usual crowds milling around waiting for the speeches. Instead, I found an accomplished MC giving a speech. After that, there were readings interspersed with music provided by a brilliant young violinist. Cleverly, the author had decided to allow three other people to read from his work, to vary the voices. A truly classy event.

  1. Dry Tears, Matty Tamen

Again, there was plenty on offer for the audience the launch of Matty Tamen’s poetry collection at a Waterford hotel. There was a slideshow of pictures and a guitarist played soft music as people took their seats and between readings. Again, the author asked other people to read his poems and to speak about the themes of the book. It held the attention of a crowd which included quite a lot of children.

  1. Virtual Book Launches

Virtual book launches, which take place only on social media websites, are on the rise. I went to two, one organised by Lorna Sixsmith for her book Would You Marry a Farmer, and the second organised by Carmel Harrington for her book Beyond Grace’s Rainbow. For people familiar with Facebook, you are invited to the launch in the same way as you would be invited to an event.

Virtual book launches give great scope to self published authors with limited budgets. The launches featured hourly giveaways, lively interactive discussions and nuggets of info about the book. The other good thing about them was that they lasted for longer than a traditional launch would, giving you a bigger shop window.

I have to say, going to those launches made me wish I could have done my own launch all over again. Have you noticed these trends at the book launches you’ve been to?