“I wouldn’t want to be one of your characters,” my wife said, as we were discussing one of my stories. At first I was a little indignant. I likemy characters. If I didn’t like them, I wouldn’t write them.
Then she lifted up her hand and started ticking off her fingers. “One—memories stolen. Two—on the run. Three—dead. Four—arrested. Five—dead.” I stopped her there, she had made her point.
Last week I wrote about making characters sympathetic by putting them in pain (one technique). But it’s how the reader leaves the characters at the end of their journey that makes them memorable. As you can probably tell by my wife’s list, the characters I tend to like the most, aren’t the ones that live happily ever after. This is actually a reader bias on my part. I think there are poignant points to be highlighted and made not by what happens, but by what could and doesn’t happen, letting the reader fill in their own commentary.
But more than one market, more than one editor has said they’re swamped with these kinds of stories and they’re looking for not necessarily happy-ever-after endings, but more optimistic endings. My goal is to become a better writer and sell commercial fiction, so I adjusted my stories to accommodate more optimistic endings. After all, each story is just practice for the next one, so I decided to practice optimistic endings for a bit—with mixed results. But I’m having a blast writing them.
I’m not sure if my wife would want to be one of my characters now, but at least she’s not ticking off her fingers anymore.