So the action/emotional tension/suspense reaches its peak, the detective reveals the murderer or imposter, the hero emerges from the smoking remains of the bad guy’s lair with only a few scratches (and the girl on his arm), the heroine politely but soundly cuts the predatory Other Woman to win her True Love for herself, the cowboys capture the rustlers before they can get the herd into Old Mexico . . .
Story’s over, right?
Well, if it is a short story, it can be. If you are writing a serial and your readers know that in advance, it can be. If it is something longer, and you drop the curtain here, your readers are going to feel cheated.
“But, but . . . what about the kid? What about saving the ranch? Can we at least peek into the church at the start of the wedding?” We want to see the rest of the happy ending, or at least the happy-for-the-moment-ending. English-language fairy tales traditionally end with “And they all lived happily ever after.” German stories more often end with “And if they’re not dead, they’re living still.” (Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, dann leben sie nach Heute.) And the end of a very tense and dramatic scene in Intensely Familiar, the heroine warns her husband that if he comes home from “an errand” and falls into bed without eating, “Two words. Frying pan.” (It’s a running joke that she’s going to thump him with the big cast iron frying pan.) The reader gets a hint of returning normality, and that although things have changed, some things remain.
Sarah Hoyt calls these “cigarette moments,” after the now-long-gone smoking in bed after passion scenes. A moment to relax, to tie up lose ends, to confirm that justice has been done, and so on.
So, in the novel that we have been following, the nomads have seen that justice was done per the laws of the gods, even if they did it their own way. The river is returning to its proper place, the really bad guy is answering to a higher authority, the children and the most abused child have been saved, and they all live happily ever after. Right?
Sorry. I’m too much of a stickler for history, and human nature for that. And in the prehistoric-fantasy subgenre, the ending tends to be upbeat but still somewhat realistic for the setting.
Excerpt: [One thread in the book is that the chieftain, Mahon, is very determined that his daughter is going to marry his choice or not at all. Meana has her own opinions on that. Foy is unwed and has shown no obvious interest in Meana. Emphasis on obvious.]
Vashlo ducked out of the tent and stretched, then went looking for Foy. The morning wind smelled clean but dry, warning that the grass would soon start curing or withering. Without the main river, the others would run weaker, or so Dravanae’s visions had warned. Time to move, to follow the Fifth River wherever it went, toward the west. West was good.
Camp noises filled the cool air. Children trotted back and forth, carrying fodder or helping their parents and relatives. Three very young one chased a hoop as an older girl watched. Vashlo nodded to some of the other hunters. A few of the city women, the youngest ones, worked under the close supervision of clanswomen. They’d chosen to come with the clan, and Mahon had approved. Where would he go if he were Foy? A clump of trees caught his eye, and the bird sunning atop a dead branch. Vashlo nodded. Indeed, as he came closer, he saw his cousin breaking a stick into smaller pieces and tossing them into the reeds at the edge of the salt pond. “You’re scaring the fish,” Vashlo called, quietly.
Foy turned, jerked his hand down with the middle finger extended, and resumed killing the stick.
“What’s eating you, Foy?” Vashlo kept his distance. He knew not to approach too closely when the scout simmered.
“The child, Heavchi. That even Lyria cannot help her to heal.” Anger blazed in his eyes, radiated from his taut shoulders and clenched fists. “I want to go back, find the bones of that so-called priest, and torture them as he did the poor child.”
Vashlo scowled down at the grassy ground then looked up to the sky. A hawk circled on the morning wind, catching the air and soaring on. “Time, Foy. All things with time. Remember that the hawthorn bloom last but best, even though the storms twist and bend the wood. Heavchi won’t heal in a moon. Your arm didn’t, so why should a heart?”
“And the gods work slowly, or fast, but on their own time. I know, damn it, but it doesn’t make it easier.” The scout kicked at a rock. “At least she’s walking and talking to a few people,” he allowed.
Vashlo nodded. “And the grass is greening, and Dravane has finally agreed that the spotted colt is not a sprinter and has decided to quit trying to train him to race instead of to truly ride.”
Foy folded his arms. “Un huh. And next you’ll be telling me that Meana has announced her choice of a husband and her father has approved it. In which case we don’t need to bother moving the herds, because the gods themselves will be walking among us to see such a wonder.”
Vashlo grinned. “I wouldn’t go that far, but Mahon is looking for you. Shall I saddle your running horse?”
“Fleetfoot might not be fast enough. And I can’t drown myself in a river that’s not there.” But he grinned back, a little.
A hawk called from overhead, and other birds answered. The men turned back toward the camp.
Yes, in the final version, it will be longer. There will have been hints in the lead up to the climax that the people in the secondary towns know that the good times are going to end soon, because the gods always bring justice, be it soon or slow. And readers know that the nomads are going to move on, because the herds need grass. With out the river, why stay when they can follow it to new pastures?
Story lines are tidied up, good is rewarded, evil punished, and there is hope for those who suffered.
I hope this series has provided some tips and ideas that you can use. Failing that, I hope it has served as a horrible warning on what not to do. 🙂