Writers Challenge

Most reading my blog realize that I grew up Baptist, but have recently left the denomination for the local Free Methodist church. At my new church, I'm involved with the drama department, and have written my first play for them (I'll tell you more about the play in later weeks).

Happy Dog in the Deep Snow
The director of the plays made a comment about most Christian plays: they have to have a happy ending. The lost get saved; the sick are healed; the marriages are restored. There is always a good defined ending to these plays because people want those sort of endings. For example, at my former church, I wrote a skit where I purposefully left the ending unresolved. When I showed it to the assistant pastor, he wanted me to write the ending in such a way that people knew what happened.

He completely missed the point of the play, and the very point I wanted to offer: we don't always know what will happen, we just need to follow Christ. It was one of those moments in which I realized just how complacent individuals are especially in the church. It is as though we must be given pureed food at all times, because we are unwilling to chew.

I learned something from the response I received, as well as from plays that the church did put on where everything was resolved at the end: Christians need happy endings, loose ends tied-up, and nothing to make them think. Even the ones who claim they like to think rarely want to think at the end of a dramatic production, or through a novel. Quite honestly, thinking seems to be one of those skills sadly lacking in the church currently.

Not saying that there aren't places, but it is something that writers targeting Christians must bear in mind when they begin writing.

Lack of thinking is also a common ailment among most Americans regardless of creed. We are, by and far, not a reading culture. We like to have our information in short bites where we can learn quickly. I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else is; if someone gave me a long essay or five bullet points in an article, I'd read the article over the essay.

How do we as writers combat this slide away from complex thoughts? Truth be told, I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I've gone ahead and written plays where the endings leave individuals considering what happened, and they have done poorly. I've written the happy ending plays and they do better.

Since I primarily write novels, I find it easier to leave the questions within the novels; if the character doesn't know what to make of something it is easier to leave questions unanswered. I have five ways that I counter the happy ending expectations with my desire for contemplation.
  1. Allow some happiness in the ending. This is what my editor suggested for Azure Maris in the first book: give the reader something that is good. Originally, Azure met with the ambassador from Deep Waters; in the published version, she meets one of her family members. It's a happy closure, but not a happy ending to the book. Think of this as having more darkness than light.
  2. Ignore the happy ending. Sometimes, the story cannot have a happy ending so ultimately, you have to ignore the expectations and proceed. In these stories darkness predominates with maybe only a sliver of light.
  3. Give the happy ending. Just give up and give the people what they want. Honestly, for certain places this is all you can do, and pray. This is the sunshine and roses type of ending where everything is bright and cheery.
  4. Give a happy ending ... with some minor adjustments. Sometimes the best way to do the happy ending thing is to allow some elements to remain unanswered. This might come in the form of a character or plot element not having the answers. This one is similar to number one, with more light than dark.
  5. Create a series. Only slightly tongue in cheek here. If you create a series you can allow your characters to enter into a darker plain before rising ultimately to the expected happy ending. This is most commonly used in fantasy.
Ultimately, how the story ends is up to you as the writer. You need to determine what will happen based on what you want to express and what your characters tell you. As the story progresses you might find that you want to have the bright sunshine ending, but you also might realize that the darkness is more powerful to achieve the storyline. Whatever you do, make certain it fits the story. Not all stories have happy endings, and the audience, by far will understand that - they may not like it, but they will understand it.

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