You may not know this about me, but I’m a gamer. I’ve been playing since college. First, it was pen and paper games, but pretty much as soon as I owned a computer, I also had games for it. Since then, I’ve progressed to console platforms (I do most of my gaming on Xbox these days). That said, some of you may have heard about the enormous controversy over the endings to Mass Effect 3, one of the most beloved science fiction franchises of all time. I’m not here to talk about those… well, maybe a little. Tangentially, anyway.
See, the reason fans are so angry is because what’s delivered is diametrically opposed to what’s promised. It’s like if you had written five books in a series… and with every interview you did, you promised readers everything would be all right; just trust you. Then in book six, a giant rock falls and everyone dies. It’s not just that you ended your series sadly. It’s also about a fundamental breach in trust between author and reader. If you build expectations toward a certain goal, then you risk all the goodwill you’ve created in your career if you execute a sharp 180 at the last minute. That’s not to say you can’t ever write surprises. You can do unexpected things in your body of work. But I really believe it’s wrong to tell readers one thing, and then deliver another.
For example, I’ve been promising that the Jax series would have a happy ending since the beginning. I’ve been telling readers, “Be patient. I know this book is painful. Terrible things happen. Just hang on. The ending is worth waiting for, I promise.” I’ve been saying this (more or less) since book one, Grimspace. I’ve now completed edits on book six, Endgame, and how do you suppose readers would feel if I kill Jax off at the end, or if I write a cheap conclusion to her saga? If you predict they would be mad as hell, well, you would be correct. Because certain promises have been made. I can’t go around my own word without having people call me on it. That’s just how it works. And I really think it’s a mistake to alienate your audience. Now, if I had been crafting expectations toward a tragic end from the beginning, then people would be braced. They might cry and find it to be cathartic, but it wouldn’t come out of nowhere. I haven’t done that. (And don’t worry; I’m only using this as an example!)
For myself, I can promise (after the Mass Effect 3 fiasco), I am more committed than ever to keeping the faith with my readers. What endings have shocked and disappointed you? How did it color your own work?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s jk5854