“You’re a writer?” The pudgy guy I’ve just met peers at me through beige, plastic rimmed glasses. “What do you write?”
“I don’t like romance,” he states flatly.
I squelch the urge to say, Gee I never would have guessed. I settle for a head nod. I wonder how quickly I can get away from him.
Sure of his superiority, he rocks back on his heels, and adds a smug smile. “The trouble with romances is that you already know how the story is going to end.”
I try to keep my expression mild. “Is that so?”
He bounces on his toes in triumph. “Yep. The hero and heroine will always wind up together!”
“That’s true. All end the same way.” I offer an admiring smile. “I’ll bet you’re a murder mystery fan.”
He flushes a little with pleasure at finding himself understood and his discerning taste recognized. “That’s right.”
“But it doesn’t bother you at all that murder mysteries have the same ending.”
His brown eye dart from side to side, as if he's trying to see where this conversation went off track. “But they don’t—“
“Don't you know that the book will end with the murderer being caught?"
"Well yes, but--"
"And you even know who will solve the case.” I look around the room. “I see someone waving to me. Pardon me while I go speak to her.”
Will all romance writers who have had some version of this experience, please raise their hands?
My rude friend has a right to his taste—no question—but the fact is he has mixed up liking a certain kind of story (and story ending) with criticism. He sits down to read his mystery with the same anticipation of pleasure as any romance fan, secure that the book will turn exactly the way he wants it to.
Only in recent years have I come to understand how much liking a certain ending has to do with finding a story satisfying.
Take Law and Order and all its spinoffs. I watched it a few times. The stories were believable, intelligent and well-written; the acting superb. And then I realized I felt terrible any time I watched it. And then I noticed that the episode always, always, always ended with a downer. Just when it seemed there would be some resolution, the full tragedy was revealed. And the resolution was comfortless, since justice was at best partial, and society’s response at best, adequate.
Obviously, a lot of people found the endings of Law and Order satisfying. Dramatically, I could appreciate them. Emotionally they always felt like a let-down to me. They didn’t feel ended.
Cheryl remarked yesterday on the “four women friends get together” subcategory of women’s fiction and she put her finger right on the fact that to her the ending didn’t feel like an ending.
I didn’t ask the murder mystery fan if he’d think a story would work if the detective didn’t solve the crime. No need. The answer is it wouldn’t be a murder mystery if the crime weren’t solved—and by the series’ detective. And it wouldn’t be a romance if it didn’t end with true love triumphant.
Have you run into the murder mystery fans who complain about the way romances end?