I’m never sure how much to share about my writing/querying journey on here. I don’t want to appear unprofessional, but at the same time one of my favorite things to do is read through the archives of author blogs from before they were published, to read about the struggles and the journey, the doubts and the eventual success.
Very briefly, I started querying Restless last year and very quickly stopped after receiving some professional feedback that made me rethink the entire novel. I just finished a HUGE rewrite. It took me six months. Among the many things changed, the climax and resolution are quite different than they were before. I won’t tell you exactly what changed, but one particular thread did not end as happily as it did in the first draft, and it started me thinking about resolution.
As well as that, I played a game a few weekends back called Heavy Rain. It’s a fairly unique game in that there are numerous possible endings. You play as four different characters as they attempt to save a young boy from a serial killer, and according to your split-second decisions made at high-pressure moments, not all of them may last to the end. In fact, in some endings, the killer is not found and the boy is not saved.
In the ending I got, the boy was saved, the killer died, but the protagonist also died just before the end of the game. It all hinged on one of those split-second decisions that I didn’t realize was so important at the time. I didn’t get the perfect ending, and I was surprised by how much that devastated me. I don’t get that sort of reaction on reading a novel that ends on a bittersweet note. I think it’s about responsibility — in real life, and in this game, you’re always thinking about what could have been. What could I have done differently? Is it my fault? Why didn’t I…?
Interestingly, the next weekend I went back and replayed that pivotal moment. I got the perfect ending, the protagonist lived and it felt… hollow. It didn’t feel right. On reflection, that first ending really was the perfect ending. There were consequences to my/the character’s choices. The ending was tragic, but it was also hopeful. It was bittersweet, not sickly sweet.
I think as readers and as consumers of entertainment, we want to see our lives reflected. Even when we’re reading a book about supernatural creatures, we still want it to ring true in an emotional sense. I may have felt differently ten years ago, but I don’t want the characters to get everything they want. I want them to lose sometimes, and I want them to learn from their loss and grow.
I’ve made a very particular choice with the ending of my novel that not all readers are going to like. It might take some tinkering to make it work, but I’m pretty convinced it’s the right choice, for my book and for my characters. A few years ago I would have written it differently, but these days what I’m seeking is the emotional truth. I’m looking for hard decisions and endings that aren’t perfect, but feel real.
Maybe that will work against me, but I’m hoping my readers (even if those readers are just friends and family) will come to the same realization I did while playing Heavy Rain. Sometimes the most satisfying ending isn’t the one where everything ends up happily. Sometimes the most satisfying ending is about losing, and growing, and learning to move on.