Questionable: Endings

S asked:

I’d love to hear more about endings. About how we wrap things up in a novel in general. I’ve heard terms bandied about like ‘the obligatory scene’ and a ‘circular ending’. I’ve been told the ending is written in ‘falling conflict’ not ‘rising conflict’. What are romance writers expected to do structurally, compared to other novelists when ending a book? Also, do we have to give the reader a Happy-Ever-After? I’ve noticed in my critique group how everyone ties everything up neatly at the end of their book but I prefer it if some things are left unanswered – is that a bad idea? I always think there’s nothing left for the reader to think about after they finish the book, if every question in the book is answered. Are we supposed to answer every question? How does the story question relate to endings? Are we supposed to resolve the hero’s wound? What about the emotional arc and the ending? How is a sub-plot wrap-up different to the main plot wrap-up? Really, what I need is a Hoover and access to your brain…

JenniferNennifer: I vote with S for more about endings, not because I am going to write anything, but because so often I have read a book that was good for the first 3/4 and then ……… either an additional conflict is introduced, which just feels like it was put in to keep the book going a requisite number of pages, or the relationship quits growing while we wrap up the plot and it is less satisfying.

Bob and I used to argue about the most important part of the book. He said it was the beginning because if the beginning didn’t grab readers, they didn’t keep going. I said it was the ending because if they loved a book and then arrived at an unsatisfactory ending, they’d hate the author and the book. We were both right because the beginning and the ending are two halves of a whole, the promise the author makes to the reader which is what makes the reader commit to the book, and the fulfillment of that promise which makes the experience of reading a success. That’s one thing that often gets overlooked when talking about writing choices: the relationship between the writer and the reader. Writing for publication is a collaborative act that isn’t finished until the reader has finished. A book that satisfies the writer but not the reader . . . well, you can make your own analogies. The most important thing about endings is that they satisfy both the writer and the reader.

Of course how to do that is the question. In fact, it was several questions, so I’m going to break them down.

I’ve heard terms bandied about like ‘the obligatory scene’ and a ‘circular ending’. I’ve been told the ending is written in ‘falling conflict’ not ‘rising conflict’. What are romance writers expected to do structurally, compared to other novelists when ending a book?

Romance novelists are supposed to do what all storytellers do: fulfill the promise they made in the beginning and deliver a satisfactory ending. Of course one reader’s satisfactory ending is another reader’s wallbanger, so we’ll go with logical, believable, and emotionally just (see the next answer for more on endings). “The Obligatory Scene” just means “keep your promise;” if you said the protagonist’s battle in the story is with the antagonist, then the climax had better be about the protagonist versus the antagonist or your reader won’t get her pay-off. The “circular ending” is the same thing: finish what you started. If there’s no relationship between your first scene and your climax/resolution, you’re undercutting the sense of completion that a story can deliver subconsciously.

The rising conflict and falling conflict bit is leftover from Freitag’s Pyramid, I think, although it can be reworked to make sense in modern storytelling. Basically, Freitag said that the beginning of the story is a stable situation that sets up the world, then an event happens that causes the story tension to rise to a crisis point, and at that point the story falls to its climax, which is followed by another stable world in the resolution. That worked in this 19th century, but those people used to listen to four-hour sermons. Now we start the story at the event that causes the rising action and our resolutions/stable world scene at the end is about two pages. Get in and get out: Modern plots are usually shown kicking off the tension on the first page, rising in tension up to the climax (not the crisis), and then falling in that last couple of pages of resolution.

However, there’s another way to look at it. Modern plots can rise to that crisis or point of no return at the halfway point, which is when the protagonist has gone so far, done so much, changed so much that she can’t go back to where she was before, all she can do is go forward. Think of it as a crisis of identity, if you will. If you visualize her after that point as hurtling herself into her problem, all hesitation gone, and then falling into the Dark Moment/Going to Hell turning point before plummeting even farther into her climax, you get a nice sense of things picking up speed and then going out of control. If that works for your story, great. If it doesn’t, your story just rises to the obligatory scene/climax, and from there falls quickly into the new stable world.

But none of that is particular to romance; that’s just storytelling.

Also, do we have to give the reader a Happy-Ever-After? I’ve noticed in my critique group how everyone ties everything up neatly at the end of their book but I prefer it if some things are left unanswered – is that a bad idea? I always think there’s nothing left for the reader to think about after they finish the book, if every question in the book is answered. Are we supposed to answer every question?

Romance writers are supposed to do what all good writers do, deliver a satisfactory ending. Genre often dictates what “satisfactory” means. In a mystery, for example, it usually means that the detective solves the crime and the criminal is punished. That’s because mystery readers, like most readers, are trying to make sense of a chaotic world, and the mystery story assures them that the criminal justice system works. Romance readers want the same thing, they just want emotional justice. So the ending of a romance novel doesn’t have to be sweetness and light with a wedding and (god forbid) an epilogue with a baby, it just has to have an emotionally just ending. That usually (but not always) means the lovers are rewarded for risking themselves emotionally to create a committed relationship. That is, at the end of the book, the reader has to feel not only that these two people deserve each other, but that they deserve the relationship because they’ve shown that they’re willing to sacrifice to make it work, that they can work together when trouble arises, that they’re in it for the long haul. (That’s why the Big Misunderstanding trope only works at the beginning of a romance when the two people don’t know each other yet; if you get to the end of the story and they’re still making stupid assumptions about each other, they’re toast in the long haul.)

That means that you can leave some things unanswered (like whether they’ll have kids, for heaven’s sake), but you can’t leave unanswered the assurance that they’re going to make it. I think one of the hallmarks of a successful romance is that readers are sure the relationship will make it, but they still want to know what happens next because they like these characters. But readers are the best ones to decide what comes after the end of the book. By the time they reach the end of the story, they’ve already recast it to fit their needs, so they’re the best ones to write the epilogues. (Epilogues in books are a symptom of Helicopter Authors, writers who can’t let go of their stories and hover over them long after the stories left the nest.) I’ve had people ask for sequels to my books, and it’s not going to happen because I could never write the sequels they want. (Actually, the funniest experience I’ve had with that is Bet Me, which had to end “they all lived happily ever after” because it was a fairy tale, so the last chapter tells what happened afterward to everybody, and I still get requests for sequels.) (I’m doing a lot of parentheses tonight. Is that annoying?)

Are we supposed to resolve the hero’s wound? What about the emotional arc and the ending?

I’m not a fan of the hero’s wound (cowboy up or get back in the truck, guy), but the emotional arc is important in any story. The idea is that this story is about the most important time in the protagonist’s life, a battle so heated that it changed him or her. If the protagonist can get through the entire story without changing, it just wasn’t that damn traumatic. We want to see the character come through the fire and triumph, not wander down the street and get a latte. That doesn’t mean the characters become perfectly healthy mentally and all questions are answered, just that they’ve changed because of the events of the story (that’s what gives the events their meaning) and they’ve reached a new stability, a New Normal if you will.

How is a sub-plot wrap-up different to the main plot wrap-up?

Subplots are supporting plots, so their wrap-ups, while important, should not step on the climax of the main plot, which is where the big pay-off for the reader comes. Basically, you should start your subplots after the main plot starts (in the first scene), and end your subplots before the main plot ends (in the climax). Otherwise, they’re structured the same. It helps if your subplot climax echoes or mirrors or in some way enhances your main plot climax, but it’s not requirement. Unless you want story unity. I’m just saying . . .

I vote with S for more about endings, not because I am going to write anything, but because so often I have read a book that was good for the first 3/4 and then ……… either an additional conflict is introduced, which just feels like it was put in to keep the book going a requisite number of pages, or the relationship quits growing while we wrap up the plot and it is less satisfying.

You’ve pinpointed two basic storytelling flaws.

First, you need everything in the story–characters, conflicts, plots and subplots, even locations–introduced or foreshadowed in the first act/first quarter to a third of the story. You put all the playing pieces on the board, and then you play the game. Actually, you’re playing the game from the first page, so at the end of the first act, you escalate the game. Bringing new characters and conflict that haven’t been foreshadowed in later is like slipping an extra ace into card game: it may not get you shot, but it’ll annoy the hell out of the other player, your reader. That’s in part because a large part of reading enjoyment is in expectation, and readers can’t expect something they don’t know about.

Second, if you’re writing a romance, the story is over when the romance reaches commitment. If you’re writing suspense with a romantic subplot, you can get the lovers to commitment before the suspense climax (because subplots end soonest, see above), but if you’re writing romance with a suspense subplot, getting the lovers to commitment and then going on to resolve the suspense plot seems like you’re dragging out the resolution. How do you know which one you’re writing? Which story takes up the most real estate, has the most emotional tension, is the most entertaining? Or easier, which one starts in the first scene and ends in the climax? The two plots can be almost equal in importance, but you have to pick a lane. Agnes and the Hitman is a suspense story with a romantic subplot; a lot of people call it a romance, but it starts with Agnes smacking a guy trying to kidnap her dog and ends with Agnes smacking a woman trying to kill her; the guy at the beginning was sent by the woman at the end. It’s about Agnes fighting for her life. Almost of equal importance is the hit man who shows up in the third scene to save her and stays to commit to her, but the story is about Agnes and her fight for survival, not Agnes and Shane’s love story. What the Lady Wants (hate that title), on the other hand, is a love story with a suspense subplot because nobody really cares who killed the uncle; the action is all about Maybelle and the fake detective she hires and then falls in love with. The one I screwed up was Maybe This Time. Why? Because it was a ghost story with a romance subplot and I started with the romance. I had a good reason: I was doing my version of The Turn of the Screw and that’s where Henry James started, but it was a dumb reason because it promised the reader a story she didn’t get. (Actually, James starts with a house-party frame he never finishes, so he starts with the ghost story. I really screwed up.) Pick a lane, Jenny.

38 thoughts on “Questionable: Endings

  1. I think I’m going to tape the phrase ‘Pick a lane’ to my desk to remind me to keep my story heading in the correct direction. Or, at the very least, a direction.

    Thank you for this post! It’s helped me figure out where I derailed my plot.

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  2. So would you rewrite the first scene of Maybe This Time if you could, and set it at the house?

    I’ve been thinking about the promise thing with the trilogy I’ve been reading. It’s like the author makes a trilogy promise but then each book has to stand alone, and she’s not great at pacing or plot but her characters are fantastic. And I would feel better about that if I felt like at the end of each book we were getting some payoff toward the resolution of the promise. I think she thinks she’s giving it to us, but it’s really a throwaway in the midst off all the characters she wants to write and the setup for the next book, and that makes it ultimately unsatisfying to me. Eye on the prize, lady.

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      1. Funnily enough, I never read MTT as either a romance or a ghost story primarily; the most interesting aspect to me was always the *family* story. Which of course includes the romance but really, it was the kids’ relationship with Andie that was the main draw. I absolutely love (seriously, LOVE) the book but I do wish there were more Alice & Carter in the final third or so.

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      2. I have a couple of comments about some things you said in this post. First of all I know you said you screwed up MTT but I enjoyed it. I’ve listened to and read it a number of times and enjoyed it each time. I liked the relationships between the various characters, Andy and North, Andy and the kids, Andy and Isolde etc. The interplay between them all (and the Crusie humor in the bargain!) kept me entertained right from the get go.

        The second thing I wanted to comment on is about people writing to you asking for a sequel to Bet Me. How funny, you’d already told us what happened to everyone, what more could you do for a sequel? The only way I can think of is for some of the characters to show up as secondary ones like you did with Gabe McKenna in MTT.

        Oh, speaking of secondary characters and MTT, by any chance is the Simon that North calls in England the same Simon from Faking It? Just wondering…

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  3. There’s so much here that I love, and that makes good sense to me as a reader. This especially:

    First, you need everything in the story–characters, conflicts, plots and subplots, even locations–introduced or foreshadowed in the first act/first quarter to a third of the story. You put all the playing pieces on the board, and then you play the game.

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  4. I enjoyed Maybe This Time immensely. And those are the characters I’d like to see again. And Nadine.

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    1. I’d like to see what happens to Alice and Nadine myself. I think I can do it because they were supporting players in Andie and Tilda’s stories, not the protagonists.

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      1. They were supporting players, and also kids. Well, kid-ish in Nadine’s case. It would be fun to meet them fully formed.
        Tidbits from Andie or Tilda wouldn’t ruin the endings of their books, if kept minimal. A sentence about a really good copy of Van Gogh that hangs in an otherwise typical intern’s apartment , or Alice going to a craft store to buy fabric since she’s going to sew something with Andie later don’t extend the elders’ stories. Depending on the timing, one could have a college friend who always had Krispy Kreme gift cards from her Aunt Min. Things like that aren’t surprises to the reader, so much as acknowledging that, yes, it’s the same characters in the same universe.

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        1. Lani read the beginning to the Alice story, and in it North is pale because he’s been ill, and she e-mailed and said, “DO NOT KILL NORTH.” Like I would.

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    2. I did too. It’s one of my favorite Crusie re-reads — it has intricate, fascinating twists without being boring, and the secondary characters are both interesting on their own, and different from the masses of cliche’d figures that I’m used to encountering in fiction that I don’t want to finish, much less read again. I think there’s something to be said for taking literary roads less traveled once you’ve succeeded in finding your voice, and figuring out the tried-and-true Way to Do Things.

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      1. I absolutely love MTT. I’ve re-read three times. The story is comforting to me. My kids love it too. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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  5. This is such an important question and WHAT a comprehensive answer! Thank you.

    I particularly loathe cliffhanger endings. Unanswered questions that leave me thinking about how the characters are doing – like Tamora Pierce’s early Circle of Magic Books – are a different device from an added paragraph/half chapter that is there to set up your next book.

    Just a few days ago I tweetioned (tweet+mentioned) Sweet Valley High and the cliffhanger add-ons that made me hate the series. I must’ve only read two books as a teen when I realised what they were doing.

    About 5 years back, I pretty much stopped reading Sherrilyn Kenyon when similar add-ons started being appearing in her books.

    I know that sometimes it is on publisher’s advice in an effort to get people to pre-order books. But it feels like BAD written storytelling. Authors need to live, thus need to sell but they are not Scheherazade and I am not Shahryar planning to behead you.

    I find that I’m so dismayed/disgusted/irritated/betrayed upon encountering a cliffhanger that I do everything in my power to scrub the story from my mind but remember the author and add to my DO NOT BUY, EVER list. The opposite effect of what they hoped they achieve.

    I might sound rabid and am probably acting out of pure bloody-mindedness but money is tight, I’m *not* spending it on half-told stories.

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  6. I agree with Sure Thing – hate cliffhangers too. And I love this post. Something to think about for my next novel, which isn’t going too well. The problem is – I don’t know the ending. But then, I don’t write romance. I write fantasy adventure and I can’t figure out how my heroine is going to solve the problem in front of her. Maybe I gave her an unsolvable problem? Maybe I picked the wrong lane?

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    1. I can’t figure out how my heroine is going to solve the problem in front of her. Maybe I gave her an unsolvable problem?

      Maybe plot from the antagonist’s POV for a bit? What is the antagonist doing, planning, or realizing that might provide an opportunity for your heroine?

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  7. Love the contract with/promise to the reader. That makes sense whatever you’re writing. Thank you!

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  8. “Cowboy up, or get back in the truck, guy.”

    I think this will be the quote for my annual Snark-Me Thanksgiving t-shirt this year. Thanks, Jenny!

    My favorite romance novels are definitely those where the lovers are committed to each other at its conclusion, and I’m made to feel like I can picture their future without reading they marry, spawn, etc. I appreciate feeling like I’m an active participant in the story.

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  9. I think I ranted in the comments back when S wrote

    Also, do we have to give the reader a Happy-Ever-After? I’ve noticed in my critique group how everyone ties everything up neatly at the end of their book but I prefer it if some things are left unanswered – is that a bad idea? I always think there’s nothing left for the reader to think about after they finish the book, if every question in the book is answered.

    If you’re writing a romance, as a reader, I expect an HEA. Without it, not a romance.

    And yes, tie up everything unless it is part of a series. In which case, there can be a larger story/subplot that advances with each book but isn’t wrapped up until the end. If you choose not to answer all the questions just so I will dwell on the story, know my feelings will be negative. I will fume about the lame author who can’t complete her story. I will rant and be very annoyed and will be unlikely to read another of your books. If you write a full, complete, wonderful story, I will think about it afterwards with happy feelings and dwell in the scenes I most enjoyed, quoting the lines I liked best. Life is uncertain. My romance reading is not.

    I LOVE Leverage. I hate that we never learn Sophie’s real name. That tidbit of information that they teased us about for multiple season and it was never resolved. I wish a day at least of bad diarrhea on whoever made the decision to not tell us.

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    1. I felt that way about the disclosure of Mr. Big’s real name on Sex and the City, Kelly. Six seasons of that foolishness, and I thought, “I better get a name after all this!”

      Then with the reveal of his name (John) at the end of the last episode, my friend turned to me, outraged. “That’s it? Just John?”

      Hey, it was a solid name. I think she expected it to be “Thor” or “Mastadon”. We may have been better off not knowing Sophie’s real name. It’s in the mist with Tony Soprano.

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    2. I think Gina Bellman decided Sophie’s real name was Laura. That’s good enough for me.

      I think the “everything tied up neatly” complaint is for books that leave nothing to the reader’s imagination. “And then they had six children and every Christmas they went caroling.” At the end of Maybe This Time, you don’t know what’s going to happen to Alice and Carter–those kids have some trauma to deal with–you just know they’re safe, stable, in good hands. You don’t know how Andie’s going to deal with Lydia or what Southie’s going to do next, you just know enough to figure they’ll be okay. The world is stable, not spelled out in detail. It goes back to giving the reader enough room on the page to participate.

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      1. You are right, there are things left untold in Maybe This Time, but those things are like people you know. You know their story up to today, but you don’t know what their future will be. That’s life and you feel like you know Andie and North and know they will be able to handle what comes. What I HATE is writers who purposely leave parts of the story they are telling unanswered because they want to write a sequel. You always tell the story – from start to end – and each book stands alone. And MTT is one of my favorites, too.

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    3. okay, so I don’t need to know wedding details and number of children they have and the type of dog. That’s all what happens after the HEA and no longer part of the story. It’s things like Sophie or Mr. Big’s names or more importantly plots that aren’t resolved. If the heroine needs X in order to survive, meets her hero, falls in love, they commit, but we never learn she obtained X, then the story hasn’t been satisfactorily resolved. If the dog was trapped in a cave with the people and the people are rescued but the dog is never mentioned again, I’m frustrated. I’ve read all the words you wrote. I didn’t skim. So, if you’re throwing in these details, wrap them up for me. Otherwise, the dog died in the cave and I think you’re bad at story telling.

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  10. I read a book recently that left with me with the most horrible after-taste. The protagonist’s husband cheated on her with her sister. After going on this journey with her, where she tries to figure out what she might’ve done to cause this hideous betrayal from two people so close to her, we end the book with HER being ejected from the community. The cheating bastard gets her sister, a baby, their home, their shared business, and her family. I was crazy angry! But it really reinforced the idea that readers need the cathartic release of ejecting the bad guy from the community. That book really drove it home–I threw that one against the wall. Another book I read recently–which had me in its grip–ended, leaving me wailing (I don’t kid; ask my husband), but then the author tacked on a little bitty HEA. Her love interest dies (me, wailing), but then we turn the page to find some time has passed, and she’s sitting in a cafe sipping her Cappuccino, feeling so grateful her left her all that money so she could see the world. I spoke with another author about it recently, and she didn’t share my sentiments–thought the ending was good–so it’s all very subjective. But I know for me, as an author, I want my readers to swoon when they close my books. I want to see a smile on their faces and a hand over their hearts. So I pay very close attention to crafting my endings. Oh, and part of what makes me smile–and enables me to swoon–is knowing that both characters in a romance complete their journeys–heal themselves–I need to see it on the page, that epiphany–so I can believe they’ve actually changed–otherwise I suspect they’re just in for more of the same trouble. After the crisis and before the climax, I give both h/h a cathartic moment, where the scales fall from their eyes and they’re able to see why they behave the way they do (the thing that keeps them from having their heart’s desire). And that’s what sets them free and racing to their climax. I know you’re not a fan of wounds, but my characters all have them. And there’s no swooning until they heal their wounds in my world!

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  11. In the blog where you were discussing plots and subplots and getting to the end of the story, you said that you messed up with Maybe This Time because it was supposed to be a ghost story and the love story got in the way. At least that’s what I understood you to say, and I don’t think you messed up at all. (In another life, a professional musician told me I have unsophisticated tastes because I prefer music that’s pretty clear cut, much like preferring paintings that look like something specific as opposed to whatever the view thinks it is. I’m guessing that mindset of mine is operating here and that your belief you messed up in that book has everything to do with the standards professionals set for themselves as opposed to what we the readers like!) In any case, I’ve only read Maybe This Time three times and listened to it twice (when I find a ‘place’ I want to be, I like to be able to return there many times) and I’ve always felt the story flowed perfectly. It was good the old ghosts were gone…they needed to be gone. Letting the housekeeper and the younger ghost stay in the house seemed suitable and perfect and taking Dennis to Columbus, ditto. Also finding out Meredith was there was good because obviously, Archer was going to get a lot of stuff settled and all would be better for each of them. Those things all came to light after we knew that the love story was taken care of…I haven’t once felt that either story overshadowed the other.

    I don’t imagine this comment is going to change anyone’s mind about the pace and setting and all that jazz about subplots and main plots; however, I just wanted to tell you that, to this reader, you didn’t mess up in Maybe This Time at all. And I also wanted to say that I do hope you get those novels that tie Nadine (from Faking It) and Alice and Carter (from Maybe This Time) together actually written, as I would love to see how those characters have developed over time. Besides, that way we could catch up with Matilda and Davy and all the others in both stories without actually having a sequel; I’m guessing theirs would be different stories and not continuing the initial lines?

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    1. I think the problem with Maybe This Time isn’t the characters or the plot or the writing (she said modestly), it’s the structure. Starting the book with Andie and North set up the expectation that it was a romance. If readers could get by that to see the ghost story as the center (and the family as its real focus), then the romantic subplot is fine for them. But if they settled in for a romance and got half a book where the lovers talk only on the phone briefly, then the promise wasn’t kept that I made in the beginning. I like Maybe This Time, I’m proud of it, but I do think that’s a flaw.

      Of course, the day I write a flawless book is the day the North Pole melts. Wait, that’s happening. Never mind.

      The work I’ve done on Nadine and Alice is fun, two books that run at pretty much the same time with scenes that crossover (they live in the same town, after all). I’ve only got the opening of Alice’s started, maybe the first 20,000 words, and Nadine is in there, but it’s on the back burner for right now.

      And thank you for all the kind words, too (g).

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      1. This is exactly my problem with ‘Maybe This Time’: I started reading a romance, and couldn’t wrench the later story into that shape. So unlike everyone else here, it’s not a favourite of mine. I must give it another go.

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        1. That happened to a lot of people. I made the wrong promise in the first scene, and that meant that a lot of people set up the wrong expectation. That’s my responsibility in the first scene, to make sure I’m pointing them in the direction I’m going to go. I can still put in reversals and surprises, in fact I have to, but I shouldn’t say, “This is chocolate cake” and then serve them strawberry cheesecake. If you like both chocolate cake and cheesecake, you can roll with it and still enjoy it, but if you hate cheesecake, you’re going to be unhappy.

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  12. I’m late to this party, but I really need to say something about grovelling. Some authors, even authors I generally like seem to think that the hero needs to abase himself to the heroine as part of the resolution of the story. It can’t be true that that’s never valid, I guess. But I think that both hero and heroine are involved in the relationship dance and I just don’t believe if things haven’t worked out until that point that it’s all because the hero f”ed up and needs to go on his knees to the heroine, literally or figuratively. It does leave a bad taste in my mouth even if I’ve loved everything else.

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    1. I think one of the things that foreshadows a successful long term relationship is the equality of the partnership. Because they’re human, they both make mistakes. Because they’re decent human beings, they apologize to each other, promise to do better, and then do better. (That last bit is important.) The problem comes when one is a fuck-up and the other one is already mature and steady. At that point, the relationship becomes almost parent/child, the mature person in the relationship helping the other person to mature, and that’s a very bad power balance because it tends to endure. That’s where you get women (and men) with two kids who are actually raising three because their partners liked being the kid and perpetuate the relationship. Much worse is the partner who matures and becomes an equal but the other partner won’t accept that, that’s not what he or she signed on for. The strong relationship is two equals who work out their problems together and then work on whatever the story conflict is together, cementing an equal partnership.

      So the key in your comment is “groveling.” That’s not apologizing, that’s one partner debasing himself (or herself) in front of the other, superior partner. And I agree, it’s really bad. Apologizing is good, apologizing and making good on the apology is great, debasing oneself by groveling in front of a superior is bad.

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      1. I also think that it can turn into groveling when the person who is being apologized to (in most cases in romance novels this is the woman) holds out for such a long time that it’s no longer just an apology. It just feels like a bad start to the rest of their life together, a built in power imbalance. Of course there are moments when the balance is being redressed; I think of the end of Welcome to Temptation. There is no apology there and certainly no groveling, but Phin does go through most of the book believing at some level that he’s one up on Sophie, and she buys into that as well. (My opinion, feel free to correct me.) So that’s NOT what I’m talking about. I think it often happens when the hero just doesn’t get that he loves the heroine and so when he finally does, she makes him really pay. Of course so many complexities possible here, but when it’s a grovel, I see it and hate it.

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