Monday, September 25, 2017

Skipping to the End

As a writer, what do you make of readers who flip to the end to see what happens last first?"

As a mystery writer, I work diligently to set up clues, red herrings, and relationships among my characters to keep readers guessing, but also so they can play along with the game. I want readers to be intrigued by the journey to figuring out whodunit. I want them to be satisfied that when they end comes, they have been able to participate and that they “should have” or “could have” guessed the solution.

So it came as a surprise to me to find out that a friend of mine often reads the end first to find out what happened before she gets involved in the story. At first I was appalled. The element of surprise is important to me, especially in crime fiction. As a reader I like to match my wits with the author and with the detective, amateur or professional. I like to follow the clues and even if I guess the end, it’s satisfying when I find out if I’m right or wrong.

My friend explained to me that she could not enjoy the story if she didn’t know how it ended. It didn’t so much matter whether it ended well or not for the characters. Even if it ended badly, at least she wasn’t anxious while she was reading. That way she could enjoy the language and the nuance in the author’s work.

She made a good case. I have occasionally had a similar impulse, but it involves watching sports. Sometimes I get so caught up in a basketball game—my sport of choice--that I’m nervous about the outcome. My husband and I always tape the games so we can watch them without commercials. Sometimes I go on-line and sneak a look at the final score—not so I can stop watching, but so that I can enjoy the nuance of the game—who played well, who was having an off night, how the team developed the game. Like with my friend the reader, when I skip ahead it doesn’t matter so much who won. I want to watch the beauty of the game.

I think my friend can make a good argument that we sometimes miss a deeper reading of a book because we are so caught up in how it turns out. That’s why I sometimes read a book again. I know I have rushed forward wanting to know the fate of the characters. I’m reading a Tana French book right now, and I have to make myself slow down to appreciate her astute descriptions and observations about the world of cops.

To me, it would feel like cheating if I skipped to the end. But I can’t fault other readers for how they read. I’m the writer and when I put a book out there, I have to let it go into the world and hope it stands up on its own—no matter how anyone tackles it.


Art Taylor said...

Hey, Terry -- Good post here, and interesting question generally this week. There was a study done awhile back, even using mysteries (Agatha Christie, I think), that explored whether reading the ending first spoiled things for the reader--and according to that study, your friend is right! And yet.... I don't really want to read the ending first myself. Personal preference, I guess.....

Susan C Shea said...

If a child is at risk in a story, I can barely read it, but will ask someone who has if the child survives. Ditto women in danger from someone fiendish (you know, the guy with the mask who traps women in pits...I liked The Room because the author lets you know right away that they will be rescued. Yes, I'm a wimp! But I don't READ the endings first - I count on someone to tell me.