Alaina, take it away!
If You Give a Writer a Plot Bunny…
I was knee-deep in the twentieth chapter of my first book. I knew I was getting close to the end, and I was praying to the God of Good Endings that she’d help me come up with a satisfying closure for Beckett and Hannah’s journey.
But no matter how much brainstorming I did, no matter how many candy bars I ate or Cokes I drank at one a.m., I couldn’t figure out what was supposed to happen. And that terrible panic set in.
So, I took a break from writing and started reading again. I read a book a night, consumed them really. I made notes in the margins and at the end of the books. Was the ending satisfying to me? Why or why not?
Then I perused my reading journal where I had reflected on over five hundred erotic novels I’d read over the last three years. I made a list of the top ten satisfying endings in erotic romance. I tried to find a common trend among my favorite endings, but it still eluded me.
Then one day I was sitting in a rocking chair eating crackers with my toddler while we read the famous series of books by Laura Numeroff that starts with “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” It’s known as a “circular tale,” because giving the mouse a cookie sets off a chain of events that ends in the mouse requesting….wait for it…a cookie.
My daughter laughed every time the story ended where it began, and I had to admit there was a sort of lovely satisfaction I had as a reader when the story rounded out on the final page. How else could that story have ended? I could list a dozen ways that wouldn’t be as satisfying.
And that’s when I had that choir-singing, bells-ringing, AHA! moment.
Some synapse in my brain combined my erotic romance investigation to this children’s book, which lead me to a crucial conclusion: the happily-ever-after wasn’t enough for my story.
Then I had to answer a difficult series of questions: If the happily-ever-after isn’t enough, what is enough? What is missing for it to be satisfying?
Almost all readers of romance know that the couple will most likely get their happy ending. We know they’ll overcome their troubled pasts. We know their love will heal their scars. We know the terrible car crash or the diagnosis of cancer will be wiped away, and they will ride off into the sunset, holding hands and smiling into each other’s glistening eyes.
Maybe I’m too cynical here, or maybe I’ve just read too many romances, but for whatever the reason, I realized that the whispered “I love you’s” on the final pages weren’t “doing it” for me anymore. I closed those books with a scowl and a sigh. “It had so much potential,” I’d write in my journal. Despite the characters getting their happy ending, I needed more, but what exactly I needed, I couldn’t articulate.
So, I returned to my list of top ten satisfying endings, and I noticed a trend: all of them had some sort of circular plot. In the end, there was a sense of returning to the beginning. The story was more of a reflection on the journey than it was preoccupied with tying the neat bows on the happily-ever-after.
In fact, there were more loose ends than neat bows.
Maybe an example will help. One of my favorite endings in erotic fiction is in Tiffany Reisz’s The Mistress. The last line has Soren, the male lead, laughing. An astute reader will remember that Nora, the female lead, made an earlier comment about a book ending in Soren laughing. The multiple textual layers come together to give it the extra “zing” that makes me feel satisfied despite the fact that a not-so-satisfying secret is hinted at in the final pages. Without that final line, I think I would have hated the ending. In fact, at first I really did. I felt like getting on Twitter and telling Ms. Reisz I was so furious with her. But, thankfully, it was somewhere between 2 am and sunrise, so I went to bed instead. In the coming days, I learned to love the ending, not only because of the final line but because it challenged me to get past the traditional happily-ever-after.
And, really, this idea of a circular storytelling is nothing new…at least to other cultures. In my experience as an English professor, I had many traditional and non-traditional students in my class. Inevitably, every semester, I had to assign that dreaded narrative essay where the students told a story about something that affected them. (Trust me, I’ve read more stories about dying grandmothers than I ever wanted.) Many of the traditional students scored high on the assignment because it met the college’s rubric that required a clear, chronological progression through the story. Yet, many of the other students from other cultures would score lower because many other culture’s story-telling techniques are circular rather than linear. I, ironically, often found their stories the most interesting, despite their “lower” scores.
So, the night after I had my moment of enlightenment on the rocking chair, I armed myself with this new knowledge. I wrote the final chapters so quickly they practically wrote themselves. I realized that the ending of my novel needed to be circular for me to be satisfied. The happily-ever-after, while emotionally satisfying on some level, simply wasn’t enough on its own.
Without even knowing it, I had left myself bread crumbs to follow throughout the book that allowed for the circular nature of the ending. I had started with a plot bunny.
Which made me want some compelling characters.
Which made me ask for some snappy dialogue to go with them.
And because I fell in love with them, I asked for a setting to put them in.
And because on that mountaintop setting they fell in love with each other, I needed to give them a satisfying ending…
Which, of course, required me to return to the little, hopping plot bunny that started it all.
What about you readers and writers? What makes for a satisfying ending for you? Is a happily-ever-after enough? What are some of your favorite endings? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Teaser from Forbidden Touch:
Scurrying around the room, I stuffed my clothes and toiletries in my suitcase, slid on my flip-flops, and opened the door. When I looked back, Beckett silently watched me leave without an ounce of regret, no inkling to follow and make things right.The door slammed behind me, and the elevator dinged, ready to take me to the first floor. I bolted outside as fast as I could with my rolling luggage. My body registered the brisk fall air for an instant. Its coolness crystallized the beads of sweat on my skin. I found and started my car with tears rolling down my cheeks and dripping off my jaw.Although I couldn’t remember putting the car in drive or turning on my headlights, there was no question where my car was heading. There was only one place that could sew me back together.I retreated to my parents’ house to lick the wounds I got and grieve the ones I gave.
Hannah Black saunters into the bar in her four-inch stilettos, intent on breaking her recent streak of bad dates and even worse sex. What she finds instead is sizzling hot doctor Beckett Stanton - but she doesn’t realize that he is the last man she should have chosen for her one night fling. While their views of sex and love polarize them, the attraction between them doesn’t allow either to turn away. The two play a dangerous game that tests both of their resolves, and when Hannah is given the chance to satisfy her needs, she is forced to make a decision - because the man with whom she wanted a no-strings-attached fling tugs at her heart in ways she never anticipated.
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Alaina Drake discovered her love of writing in the fourth grade when she won her first young author writing contest. After attaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English Literature, she set out to write novels that combine her two loves: erotic romance and classical literature. She has taught literature and writing at both the high school and college levels, and when she’s not writing, you’ll find her watching sports, baking cookies, and, of course, reading way past midnight. She is an avid rock climber and former ballerina, and she finds a lot of connection between the two activities despite their obvious differences. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and daughter. She loves to interact with her fans on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website where she blogs about writing, reading, and the everyday joys of motherhood.