IS HAPPILY EVER AFTER NECESSARY?

I’m up to my neck in my latest rewrite and it’s got me thinking. What do readers REALLY think about happily ever after (HEA)? What are the rules of the classic HEA? What about a happy for now (HFN)? How do readers feel about an unhappy ending?

 

I did a quick poll of my Facebook and Twitter followers, and the answers may surprise you. (Or not, that was my blatantly obvious attempt at suspense.) The HEA may not be as necessary as we think, and readers want, what’s this? An ending that makes them think? Who knew?!

 

Warning! There are spoilers from Allegiant in the next paragraphs.

 

Sara says, “I don’t like when it feels unnecessary to the story. Romeo and Juliet needed that ending… I just finished the divergent series… And I was not a fan of the ending…”

 

Me neither, Sara. What is it about killing off a main character that makes us so angry? Especially when we spent three books growing to love the absolutely kick ass Tris. While Veronica Roth promises she wrote the ending she saw for the story, I have to wonder, how could she put her characters through all that turmoil just to let her die? It hardly seems fair or necessary. Sorry, Ms. Roth. I think you’re fantastic, but we’ll never see eye to eye on this.

 

Jacci says, “I don’t like them because they ARE like real life. Some people read to escape to a “happier place” than what their life is about.”

 

I’m down with this, but it kind of limits the genre of books you can read. And…what about that dreaded, unexpected unhappy ending? Sometimes they take you by surprise (see previous rant about Allegiant). Sometimes you go into a book expecting a character to die, why hello, every John Green book ever written. Sometimes the author gives you the heads up, thanks Cassandra Clare. And sometimes, you know EVERYONE’S gonna die.

 

Lana says, “If it’s an unhappy ending in the first book, then it’s really not necessarily an unhappy ending. So long as you don’t continue these unhappy endings in all of the books! Because then you would be Game of Thrones.”

 

I’m about a quarter of the way through A Clash of Kings by good old George RR Martin and I already know not to get attached to anyone. Spoiler alert: Everyone dies. Don’t believe me? Behold the series, with every death tabbed.

 

It seems closure is important:

 

Angela says, “I would prefer happy endings, but if they are not necessarily happy but at the end I feel like I had closure, then I’m okay with it. If it’s for the best, you must do what is needed!”

 

Leah says, “First book, ok, overall, not a fan. There’s Harry Potter where everything was resolved, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it happy. We lost a lot of good characters in the fight for peace. I was good with the closure.”

 

Of course, we had to bring up Harry Potter. I’ll admit, while it was a semi-happy ending, half of the characters died. Damn, there’s another spoiler. Sorry. I’m fifty-fifty on the end of Harry Potter, only because I didn’t even care about any of the characters until the end of the fourth book. I wasn’t ready for them to die yet. And, she didn’t kill any of the main three characters, so, can we really count it as unhappy? Harry got Ginny. Ron got Hermione. Good won. Sounds pretty darn happy to me.

 

Jeff says, “If the ending is unhappy because that’s just the way the story was going to go, that’s fine. If the ending is unhappy because the author just decided to be mean spirited, then no. I’ve seen stories end where everything went to crap at the last minute for no discernible reason, and I hate it.”

 

A mean spirited author? Well…I’ve never! I have to agree with Jeff on this point. Some writers employ the “I’m God, therefore, this can happen,” approach. Need your character to fly? Suddenly they have powers. Need them to turn invisible? They amazingly discover this ability. Same thing goes for endings. If you can’t give me a legitimate reason…I’m probably not going to buy it. (Want an example of this? Read anything by Alyson Noel.)

 

Kristin says, “First of the series = good story telling. You’ve sucked the reader into an unhappy ending and now you HAVE to read the next book, because naturally we secretly want resolution.
And in the case of a single novel with an unhappy or uncomfortable ending…… Sometimes the moral of the story is the hard lesson we take away from the book. Maybe the death or catastrophe needs to happen so that the character learns something, or the reader learns something. I like a variety. Some happy, some not.”

 

Yes. Yes to this so much. Want a perfect example of this? Read The Fault in our Stars by John Green. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. If something makes you uncomfortable, then we’re probably headed in the right direction.

 

Pat says, “I’m thinking of Grapes of Wrath . . . a happy ending would negate the whole premise of the novel. Some people read for entertainment only – they read the same romance novel a hundred times (only the names and a few details are changed) – they know how it will end, and like it that way. I want the ‘end’ of a novel to work – it’s great when it’s happy, but not always necessary or ‘good’ for the reader.”

 

You mean it’s not okay to be oblivious to things like pain and suffering? This is a novel idea (pun intended).

 

Lastly, we go to Twitter for my favorite response.

 

Kevin Moore says, “I feel happy endings are the end for characters. Endings with a bit of disarray let characters live on in the mind”

 

Right on, Kevin, right on. I mean, who watched Inception? Who is still wondering if that damn top is still spinning?

 

So, what’s the verdict?

 

It seems to me that it comes down to planning, plotting, and weaving the perfect story. The ending may be awful, but if it’s necessary, go for it. Now, hold on a minute, don’t be killing off characters for sport (also don’t randomly give them magical powers), you must have reasons. And these reasons the reader must understand.

 

What say you, readership? Do you like HEA, HFN, or the necessary unhappy ending? Sound off below!

 

All the best,

Kacey

THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2014

I tried to write a witty introduction to this post. Maybe my brain is fried from the manuscript I just finished (literally five minutes ago) or maybe I used up all my wit in 2013. Perhaps it’s best if we just get to the point!

2014!

What is happening?

Drum roll please. Here is the Officially Unofficial List of THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2014. (In no particular order.) It’s a YA list. I know this doesn’t shock any of you.

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

May 2014

Everyone who knows ANYTHING about me knows that I’m obsessed with Cassandra Clare. Coming up in 2014, we will finally find out WHICH MAIN CHARACTER WILL DIE. Thanks for that hint, Cassie. It’s given me an ulcer for a year and half now.

Erchomai, Sebastian had said. 

I am coming.
Darkness returns to the Shadowhunter world. As their society falls apart around them, Clary, Jace, Simon and their friends must band together to fight the greatest evil the Nephilim have ever faced: Clary’s own brother. Nothing in the world can defeat him — must they journey to another world to find the chance? Lives will be lost, love sacrificed, and the whole world changed in the sixth and last installment of the Mortal Instruments series!

Want my guesses? Magnus, no, Alec, no…Simon? For the love of glitter, let’s just kill Jocelyn. Luke can do better, anyway.

Divergent

The Movie, March 21, 2014

Holy muscles, Batman. Have you seen Theo James as Four? HOLY MUSCLES. (Wow. I think I just had a fangirl moment.) This book rocked my world when it came out. I might have been quoted saying, “This may be the best book I’ve ever read.”

Since then, I’ve had a bipolor relationship with Veronica Roth, the author. While I still love her for creating this beautifully tragic world, I still have sleepless night over Allegiant. This is one of those times that I hope the movie industry takes artistic license and changes the story line. I’ll keep it spoiler free, folks. Just for you.

Divergent is an emotional roller coaster that I can’t wait to experience in theaters!

Beatrice Prior, a teenager with a special mind, finds her life threatened when an authoritarian leader seeks to exterminate her kind in her effort to seize control of their divided society.

 

The Fault in Our Stars

The Movie, June 6, 2014

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort must’ve won the lottery to not only get to be in Divergent (as brother and sister) but also appear in The Fault in Our Stars as the tragically doomed Hazel and Augustus.

This book. Where do I even begin?

I reviewed it. (There are spoilers in that review, by the way.) Oh thank goodness I don’t have to go over it again. This book TORE me to SHREDS like I’LL NEVER EVER EVER EVER BE THE SAME.

Thanks, John Green. (I seriously love you. Call me.)

Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous given that Hazel’s other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.

The Maze Runner

The Movie, September 19, 2014

This is going to be awesome. This series is unique, from beginning to end. I can’t wait to see how they pull it off.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, young Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape.

 

Extraction by Stephanie Diaz

July 22, 2014

WAAHHHHH! The cover for this book hasn’t released yet. Suffice it to say that I’ve read some of Steph’s work and she is FANTASTIC. Look out YA, you don’t know what’s coming!

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves Promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life.

What she finds initially in the Core is a utopia compared to the Surface—it’s free of hard labor, gun-wielding officials, and the moon’s lethal acid. But life is anything but safe, and Clementine learns that the planet’s leaders are planning to exterminate Surface dwellers—and that means Logan, too.

Trapped by the steel walls of the underground and the lies that keep her safe, Clementine must find a way to escape and rescue Logan and the rest of the planet. But the planet leaders don’t want her running—they want her subdued.

With urgent writing, fluid dialogue, and a cast of unforgettable characters, Extraction is a page-turning, gripping read, sure to entertain lovers of Hunger Games and Ender’s Game and leave them breathless for more.

Well, that’s it guys. The Completely Incomplete List of THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2014.

YOUR VERY FIRST SENTENCE

Today I’m looking into great one-liners, and no, I don’t mean pick-up lines, I mean the first sentence of your manuscript. What if your manuscript was judged solely on your first line? (Ack! Scary, right?) Would you make the grade? What works? What doesn’t? I’m sure there’s tons of great advice out there on how to compose a great first sentence. Much like the opening line of your query letter, it needs to be eye-catching and showcase your style. So as research, I hauled a whole bunch of YA books off my shelf for some good old investigation. Later, (after a few drinks,) I’m going to open up all of my manuscripts and give you the first lines. Then I’ll judge myself as well. And I heard somewhere that you’re your own worst critic, so we’ll see if I survive!

**I’d just like to point out that all of these books are young adult. I think that’s important.

On the top of the pile we have Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. (Fantasy)

               “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

I love this first line and not just because I’ve read the entire Harry Potter series. I think it’s very sarcastic and captures your attention right away. Why, what do you mean they’re perfectly normal? What is “perfectly normal,” after all? Well played, Ms. Rowling. Grade: A+

Tithe by Holly Black (Fantasy)

               “Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle.”

The first time I read this book, I was expecting typical YA, something meek and mild that skirts around major issues that teenagers face, but that first line really says it all. Kaye is smoking, her mother is drinking. This first line shows me the grittiness that follows in Tithe. I also think it shows the absolute nonchalance to the awful lifestyle she leads with her mother. Grade: I give it an A.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (Steampunk)

               “Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway.”

This one is a bit trickier. For one, it follows the typical Steampunk verbiage in that it uses way too many words. It doesn’t really give me any sort of emotion since I don’t really know who Finn is yet, though I am curious as to why he’s chained on the transitway (not that I know what a transitway is). It’s not my favorite first line. Grade: B-

The Host by Stephenie Meyer (Sci-fi)

               “The Healer’s name was Fords Deep Waters.”

I remember reading that first line and thinking “What the hell kind of name is that? What the hell, Stephenie, where’s Edward?” But…on closer inspection, it’s a great way to show the sci-fi nature of the book. How many people do you know that go by a name like Fords Deep Waters? I’m guessing none. All in all, it’s a success in setting up the book. Grade: A

Flip by Martyn Bedford (Sci-fi/fantasy)

               “Alex couldn’t have said what woke him in that morning.”

This is a terrible first line to what is otherwise a very good book (that I really enjoyed). This gives me nothing. It doesn’t have emotion, it doesn’t hint at the general voice of the book. Nothing. Blah. Don’t do it. Grade: D (And that’s generous.)

Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast (Fantasy)

               “Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse I saw the dead guy standing next to my locker.”

Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. Suddenly I’m having a bad day and there’s a dead guy at my locker. Wait, what? Dead guy? I’m so in. Plus Zoey talks like this the entire book, so it leads right in to her bubbly voice. Grade: A+

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (Fantasy)

               “I walked into biology and my jaw fell open.”

This is a ho-hum sentence. All I can think is I don’t care!! Where Ms. Fitzpatrick finds her gusto is in the second sentence, which is, “Mysteriously adhered to the chalkboard was a Barbie doll, with Ken at her side.” My advice? Nix the first sentence, start with the second which is scandalous sounding and takes me right back to sex-ed. Grade: F (And only because she had that second, much improved sentence sitting right there and she didn’t use it!)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Sci-fi)

               “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”

So it’s not the best first sentence ever, but it’s not the worst either. It shows us that the main character cares for someone, and that someone is not where they should be. It’s decidedly sad without even trying that hard. Grade: I give it a B.

Divergent by Veronica Roth (Sci-fi/fantasy)

               “There is one mirror in my house.”

This sentence is…bland. It carries a little interest in that only having one mirror is a little strange, but not enough that I’d freak out on you. Knowing that the rest of the book is freaking amazing, I won’t judge too harshly. I would’ve like a bit more. Grade: C

Tempest by Julie Cross (Sci-fi)

               “How far back should I go?” I asked Adam.

This is another one of those indecisive sentences. It could mean like whoa! Time travel! Or it could be how far back should I look into this person’s history to support my pseudo-stalker habits? It has intrigue, for sure. Grade: I give it an B+.

Now it’s time for the real fun! The following are my first sentences. I’m actually pretty worried about this…

Antithesis by umm, me. (Sci-fi)

               “Reality flickered at the edge of my vision, bright and painfully demanding.”

I have to say, it’s just okay. Because you don’t know that “reality” is punny, it doesn’t ring out as awesome. It’s well-written, but doesn’t give any insight into the story or Gavyn’s personality. Grade: Sigh. I give myself a C.

Through the Reflection Pond also by me (Fantasy)

               “I picked up my pace as I rounded the ramshackle house and exploded into the street.”

This one is okay as well. The main character is running, which makes me think she’s either running from or to someone. I also like the use of “ramshackle,” it’s tangible kind of word that gives you a nice mental picture. Grade: B-

Stepping Stones (you’re seeing a trend. I wrote this one, too.) (Fantasy Romance)

               “Dawn broke across the sky, streaking it pink and orange as Onna pushed the engine of her G6 harder than she ever had before.”

I like and dislike this sentence with equal measure. I like the description of the sky and the impression that I get that she’s running from something. It has emotion, though I’m not quite sure what that emotion is. She’s in a hurry, but is it to or from something? Apparently it’s a running theme in my first sentences. Grade: B

Untitled (This is a project that has yet to be titled or finished, but I like the first sentence.) (Fantasy Romance)

               “Whoever decided that my life should be irrevocably changed on a Monday was a cruel person.”

This sentence has all the important ingredients. It gets us inside our main character’s head. She’s not just having a bad day, she’s having a life-changing day. And even so, it shows hints of humor in her voice. Grade: A (Yay! I finally got an A!)

NaNoWriMo (This is the project I worked on for NaNo in 2011. Also untitled and unfinished and shelved. Oh, the life of a writer.) (Fantasy)

               “I stumbled and fell hard onto my bed; it accepted me with a short, angry squeak.”

I dig personifying objects, so the second half of the sentence works for me. The first part leaves me wondering why the character fell. Was she pushed? Did she pass out drunk? Is she about to get it on? (Oh yeah, I went there, and only I know the answer.) Grade: A

Whew! I survived the massacre of my own work and came out smiling. I hope you find this entry as helpful as I did. Once you’ve made it past the first sentence, there’s still an entire manuscript to address. Each sentence is as equally important as the last, so I hope you’ll ask yourself if each and every sentence is the best it could possibly be.

After all, the first sentence of a book is like the opening line of song. If it’s good, it’ll stick with the reader long after she puts the book down. Just like when you hear “Just a small town girl…” Everyone knows exactly where we’re going and how great of a journey it’ll be. (Haha, I’m so witty.) So ask yourself, what does my first line tell about my story? Does it give emotion? Does it give mood? Does it set up my story?

So what are your favorite first lines? Do you want my grade on yours? Leave me some comments.

All the best,

Kacey