Monday, May 12, 2014

Rewriting "The End"

Is there a well-known mystery in which you would have changed the ending/murderer?

By Meredith Cole

I know how hard it is to write a mystery so I always try to be patient when I read a book. After all, the author sweated over their plot, their characters, the setting and details for months (or even years), so I need to relax and enjoy all their hard work. But it's difficult once you know how the sausage is made, and have seen it made thousands of times (and have now made it yourself a time or two) to not get impatient when books have sloppy endings.

I know that it's tough to come up with new plots, but there are quite a few hokey ones that mystery readers have seen way too often, and writers should really avoid. The identical twins twist is definitely one of them. I was reading some book or another and thought to myself, "I really hope there isn't an identical twin." And sadly there was. So I felt ripped off twice, both by the hokiness of the plot and the fact that I had guessed the ending so early. I want to be surprised and entertained. That's the fun of reading a mystery for me. I don't want to guess the ending (until almost the end of the book) and be right.

So what well-known mystery would I change the ending or murderer? It's hard for me to think of just one. But I can say, although I love her books and her writing (especially her wonderful Italian food descriptions), Donna Leon's endings totally frustrate me. No matter who the murderer is, they never seem to be brought to justice. The evil-doers are always part of some giant untouchable organization that can "get away with murder." So in the end the detective shrugs and calls it a day. There is never any justice in her books. I find that very depressing. So I can read one at a time before I have to take a break and go read something else with a wonderful, satisfying ending.


Paul D. Marks said...

Meredith, your point about knowing how the sausage is made is a really good one. It does make it harder to appreciate a book because, I think, we're looking at the scaffolding underneath the surface all the time. And that does make it harder. Even more so, at least for me, when it's written by someone I know. Hard to get into that suspension of disbelief space. But I guess we keep trying.

Art Taylor said...

I'm glad I'm going last on this question, because I have no idea how to respond yet!
Thanks for the context here, Meredith, and for the good answer. :-)

Barry Knister said...

Knowing how sausage is made = a double-edged, what, sausage link? Anyway, it equips the reader to appreciate what's good, but the price is knowing just how often things don't work. I see your frustration in terms of old v new crime fiction. Traditionally, what threw the normal world out of balance--crime--had to be "fixed," justice restored, etcetera. Today, a too tidy re-balancing is viewed by many readers with suspicion. But often I, too, miss that satisfying sense of justice restored.

Meredith Cole said...

I had a hard time with this question, too, Art! Hopefully the discussion will spark some ideas for you.

Robin Spano said...

Ugh, I know how you feel re: no justice. The sad thing is that it's probably brilliant social commentary, and wonderful for a writer to defy genre convention like that. But I understand why one in a row is the maximum. It's not that you necessarily want happily ever after (at least I don't) but I do want the hard work of the protagonist to come to some kind of fruition/resolution.

Susan C Shea said...

One of the selfish pleasures of writing crime fiction is that I can make the bad guys pay, unlike real life. I agree with you about predictable endings, but for me the opposite can be true. I've read a few clunkers in which the writer has gone too far to avoid the logical explanation in order to surprise me that I end up rolling my eyes and tossing the book. (One reason to have real books and not electronic devices, right?)

RJ Harlick said...

I echo Art's thoughts as I struggle to answer this question myself. You've made some good points, Melodie.