To begin at the ending

Welcome to the new site and the first of its blogs. The reason why it was needed is too tedious to relate and involves those bizarre creatures who get some incomprehensible pleasure from slipping malware into sites and making life difficult and unpleasant for people they don’t even know. But the blog’s not about them. It’s mainly to introduce the site, ask for feedback about what works and what doesn’t, especially from those looking at or listening to the various pages on different phones, tablets, PCs, then ask questions relating to a specific writing ‘problem’ I’m facing.

MicThe main elements of the old site (which have been stripped of the bubonic plague, typhoid and whatever else the hackers injected into them) are still here, the layout is different, and there’s a new page of what I’ve called podcasts. In fact, at the moment they’re all recordings of me reading short extracts from my novels. Gradually, I’ll be adding short stories to them.

But now, this is really where I need your help, especially if you’re a reader or writer of Romantic fiction. The WIP I’ve been living with for ages now is over 70,000 words long and just about to speed into various climaxes. In the past couple of chapters, things have been coming together nicely:

  • three of its characters have helped me to devise a much better solution to the crime than the one I’d been planning,
  • my heroine has faced the challenge she set herself,
  • and opening night for the theatre troupe in one of the story’s main threads is just two days away.

So, with the end in sight, I know all the mechanics of how the various ‘clues’ I’ve spread around about the book’s crime will be brought together to reveal who or what dunnit and why they/he/she/it dunnit. But then I have the final scene to write and that’s where you come in.

In simple terms, the two genres – crime and romance – have clearly different agendas.

In the abstract, their narrative arcs aren’t dissimilar and they share many ingredients Attractive Young Couple(motives, misunderstandings, misinterpretations of actions, obstacles, resolutions). But the detective, carrying the memory of a dismembered corpse and the indelible image of a domestic crime scene might find it hard to share the attitude to life of a couple who have just overcome forces which threatened to keep them apart but whose love has survived to bring them to the edge of a happy future. I know that’s a crude juxtaposition of extremes and it’s definitely not intended to be a qualitative evaluation or comparison of the two genres as literature. But it does help me to put my particular dilemma in context.

I know (or, rather, hope) that the resolution of the crime will satisfy my readers but in my books, I usually add a coda to remind them that it was nasty and that others are being perpetrated elsewhere, so ‘happy ever after’ isn’t an option. But that won’t be the end of this book. The final scene will be between the two lovers.

Their ‘love’ began in The Figurehead and crept up on them (and me) as the book progressed. So much so that one reviewer on Amazon ended her review thus:
“I care about [the characters] and want to know what happened to Jamie the émigré, the falls or fortunes of Anderson the successful Capitalist and, above all, the development of the tantalising relationship between John and Helen. This novel is screaming for a sequel! I hope Bill Kirton will deliver!” (You know who you are, C, Munro.)

Affectionate Couple By the OceanAnd others have said the same thing. So ‘something’ has to happen between John and Helen which satisfies the readers’ curiosity. But what? The year is 1841. Marriage between a rich merchant’s daughter and a tradesman wasn’t unheard of but nor was it easy to negotiate. Moreover, this is a strong-willed young woman who’s just beginning to play a role in her father’s business, and marriage means that she and all she has becomes the property of her husband. They love each other but they’re aware of these things. They’re also aware of the dangers of childbirth, and intelligent enough, too, to know that the rosy glow of love may not be eternal.

My original idea was to steal the ending of the 17th century novel (one of the first ever novels), La Princesse de Clèves, which, very crudely, goes:

  • For social reasons, Princess marries an older, boring man.
  • Then falls in love with the Duc de Nemours. (It’s mutual.)
  • But she’s honourable and rejects his advances.
  • Husband on his deathbed says he knows she really loves Nemours and that’s caused him suffering.
  • He dies. Hooray! No obstacles to their love now.
  • Nemours presses his case.
  • But she feels guilty and says ‘Anyway, our love might die, you might fall for other women, it’s best to preserve it as it is and not spoil it’.
  • And she goes into a convent.
  • And his love does fade away.

But how satisfying would that be for Ms Munro and the others? I suspect they want the wandering into the sunset scenario or a reasonable approximation of it.

sunrise2011sept 003

So there you have my dilemma. Can I really suspend disbelief to that extent? Or should they go their separate unfulfilled ways? The only way out seems to be that, the moment they swear their undying love for one another and feel confident that they’ll always be together and love one another with the same intensity, the sun explodes.

But I can’t do that because it was in 1841 and the sun’s still here.

8 comments

  1. I think your readers would be satisfied if John and Helen have an “understanding” and “to be continued” without the tiresome commitments and obligations that would stifle Helen’s development as an independent young woman. If you go for romance then you are saddled with those tropes and expectations. I’d leave it at romantic suspense and call it good. JMHO.

    1. I know you’re right. That’s the way I sense it should be, but I’m looking for a sort of compromise, one that’ll satisfy me and any romantics who read it. I’m pretty sure that John and Helen have got a solution. I need to help them find it (or vice versa).
      Thanks for the advice, Nya.

  2. I agree with Nya. Romance the genre has expectations that tend to hinder the storyteller unless they’re committed to writing a romance. Your idea of getting them to tell you what happens next is a good one. And since this is historical crime (with a splash of romance because love happens), not historical romance, you could still have a noble parting of the ways. “I love you John, but…”

    Let’s face it, Bill. You wouldn’t be happy having them get married. It’s all wrong for the period, and Helen’s character.

    JMHO

    1. Naturally enough, Greta, I’m inclined to agree with you about it being ‘historical crime (with a splash of romance)’, But the two characters forced my hand so much that the splash became more of a deluge. The editor of The Figurehead, who was brilliant, warned me that it was ‘becoming a Romance’. I don’t mind that except, as you say, it’s a very demanding genre. Paradoxically, I’ve become so fond of both characters that I want them to be happy, I don’t want any parting of the ways. On the other hand, love is definitely perishable. I’m confident they’ll work it out.

  3. Well, romance need not necessarily have a traditional happy every after ending, for example my own One Sweet Moment, for which you gave me a lovely review, Bill. No spoilers but you know how it ended. What remained was hope, the memory of the wonderful love they had shared and an epilogue which provided a HEA.

    Not a planner myself, that ending just came. As you say, let the characters lead you to where they want to go and where it’s right for the story for them to go.

    1. Of course I remember that ending, Maggie, and if I could get even close to its rightness, I’d be very pleased. Thanks for the reassurance that it’s OK to let the characters make up their own minds.

  4. Have just come across this blog and somewhat taken aback to be described as seeking “the wandering into the sunset scenario”. Shall tell you in plain terms the next time I see you how I react to that description of my literary expectations.

    Wouldn’t dream of interfering with a novelist’s WIP. What do you take me for?

    Finish the bleeding novel!!
    Cat x

    1. Mea definitely culpa, Catriona. I know you too well to suspect you would be that prosaic or predictable. All I can do is invite you to contribute a guest blog, perhaps outlining the options available to lovers of any sort as they approach a moment of no return. I’d enjoy reading it and it might give my blog a bit of credibility. (And you can’t want the bleeding novel to be finished any more quickly than I do.) X

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