Notes on novels for adult learners

We all agreed that Louise Penny's The Hangman (Good Reads) reminds us of Murder She Wrote. It's got that pleasant, small town, mystery series feel to it. We also agreed that it wrapped up too fast, and we weren't sure how the detective solved the mystery. Or, rather, we knew because he told us, but we didn't get to see him solve it. It was... less satisfying.

Chris Ryan's One Good Turn (Quick Reads) and Tom Holt's Someone Like Me (Quick Reads) came in for similar criticism. They wrapped up too fast, without enough explanation or closure or something. The same complaint was made against The Spider Bites by Medora Sale (Rapid Reads)

The Stalker, a book by Gail Anderson-Dargatz (Good Reads), ended in a more satisfying way. (It was also compared to a good television episode.) Rapid Reads author Gail Bowen's One Fine Day You're Gonna Die and Love You To Death were both credited with good endings - in fact, they're the leading favourite books right now.

The ending to The Barrio Kings by William Kowalski (Rapid Reads) was faulted for being a little 'Walt Disney' but, at least, it wrapped up....

But my point is that the number one complaint I'm getting about the Quick Reads - Rapid Reads - Good Reads type books my learners are reading is that they "don't tell you what happened" and that the story "just ended." This was also the most common complaint I've heard first hand, or second hand through Karen and Ginny, about the Liz Tracy books. There wasn't enough wrap-up. Things weren't explained. The books lack an epilogue.

According to my Oxford Universal Dictionary - a title only the true idiot sons of the British Empire could come up with - the word epilogue reaches back to the middle 1500's. It denotes an additional speech tacked on to a play or work of literature - it comes from the Greek epi + logos ("extra" + "discourse") - and originally meant an explanation or clarification. So, for example, at the close of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, one character rejects the need for an epilogue:

No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no
excuse. Never excuse; for when the players are all
dead, there needs none to be blamed.

Still, the play does have an epilogue, delivered a few lines later by Puck: the entirely lame Dallas-type explanation that was all a dream:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream....

Lots of television detective shows feature epilogues. Looking up the word, I immediately thought of the old C.S.I.-style television show Quincy M.E. Fifty-five minutes in, after the crime has been solved, the crisis is over, and one last set of commercials has played, the show would return to a puzzled Sam asking something like, "But Quincy, if she poisoned him in her office, how did she get his car back to the beach house when his keys were still on board the airplane in the pocket of the dead pilot?" To which Quincy would give some more or less satisfactory explanation - cut to end credits.

Epilogues explain things.

I know why I didn't write an epilogue for the first two Black Castle books: it's because I couldn't explain a "monster" showing up in modern times, much less the absence of an official response to the wanton burning of a historic castle. Better just to end it in a fog of mystery, right? Actually, no. The readers want some explanation.

With the third book, I remember thinking that the story was too long, and it had been a bit slow at the beginning. Now that the shooting was over - literally - wouldn't a bunch of explanation just bore my readers? Maybe, maybe not. But there needed to be some sort of wrap-up. That's what I heard.

Which means, I guess, I need to learn to write the kind of brief, corny, satisfying epilogues television shows feature. And, I suppose, I should avoid introducing plot lines that I can't bring to full closure.

Personally, I don't mind a bit of uncertainty. I like the way Someone Like Me ended. But the majority disagrees with me. So, note to authors: readers want satisfaction even if it means a higher word count and a bunch of exposition.

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