Monday, January 21, 2019

Promises, Promises

by Jessica Ferguson

Several months ago, I read a novel—women’s fiction—that I can’t get out of my head. I didn’t like the main character or her parents. Her best friend was annoying so I didn’t like her either. Her kids were brats—one was whiny and the other was hateful. I have no idea why the main character stayed with her husband for 20+ years, so I’m glad he was deceased and I didn’t have to deal with him. Her memories of him were enough.

Are you wondering why I kept reading? The writing was great, even though the story was slow moving with sad, painful characters. Only one character captured my interest, and he showed up near the end of the book. He was a quirky university professor that dressed weird and—at the most—appeared in four short scenes. He wasn’t much more than a walk-on with interesting dialogue, but he infused hope and energy into the story, and saved the book for me. By the time I read the last page, that novel felt like the most wonderful love story I’d ever read ... not because it WAS a love story, but because it was going to BE a love story—after I closed the book and went on my merry way. Some pithy dialogue and the sweet promise of a cup of coffee captured my imagination.

Interesting how the perfect ending—the perfect promise—can save a story, and leave the reader feeling so amazingly satisfied!

And the opposite is true too.

I came across a nonfiction book on creativity that yanked me in the moment I read the title. There was such promise and encouragement on those pages. I couldn’t put the book down. I read every paragraph with a yellow highlighter, knowing there were key observations I’d want to revisit. I texted my daughter daily to tell her how wonderful the book was. Two or three chapters from the end, I noticed a change in tone, and the focus of the book shifted. It was almost as if the final chapters had been written by someone else. In the last chapter, the author devoted himself to insulting me as a Christian reader/writer/creative. He told me my interpretation of the Bible and Heaven was wrong. Pardon me?

Where was the wrap-up on being creative? The encouragement I expected? My sigh of satisfaction? Had I been blind during the first 30 something chapters? He ruined the entire book for me. I can’t remember one positive thing in previous chapters.

Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, we make a promise to our readers in each story we write. Be certain what that promise is and make sure to deliver on it. Whether we’re indie or traditionally published, the old saying, “The first page sells your book and the last page sells your next book” is truer than we realize.

Jessica Ferguson is the author of The Little Girl in the Bayou, a short story included in the Tick Tock—A Stitch in Crime anthology published by Dancing Lemur Press.  A Former staff writer for Southern Writers Magazine, Jess also worked as assistant editor/writer/photographer for The Times of Southwest Louisiana. When rights to her novel and novellas were re-assigned to her, Jess had every intention to revise and republish. A search on Amazon will show you that procrastination gets you nowhere. 

Instagram: @jessyferguson
Twitter: @jessyferguson
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Tick Tock: A Stitch In Crime
The Little Girl in the Bayou by J.R. Ferguson


L. Diane Wolfe said...

That would've destroyed the book for me, too. (Wow, how insulting!) I'm not sure too many books have kept me reading with such sorry characters but a great ending, although movies and TV shows have pulled me in that way and ended on a high note.

Jessica Ferguson said...

It was probably my mood. Sometimes I’ll put up with just about anything.

Ey Wade said...

Good article. I had to chuckle at your description of the characters. Writers definitely have to keep the promise to their readers.

Jessica Ferguson said...

I believe reading those two books was an education for me. Made me ask myself what I’m promising the reader in each of my stories.

Terri said...

Jess, I admire you for sticking with that women’s fiction book. I don’t think I could have. As far as the nonfiction book - we’ll I’d best keep my mouth shut. Great article. And you’re so right about keeping our promise to our readers.

Linda Yezak said...

Disappointing that the NF book ended as it did. That always frustrates the fire outta me. Great article, Jess.

Jessica Ferguson said...

Thanks, Terri! I think I was so amazed by the unlikeable characters I just had to hang in there and see how the story ended! Thanks for popping in, And I’m so glad you’re feeling better!

Jessica Ferguson said...

I’m still stunned by that book, Linda. What’s frightening is all the wonderful reviews it has. Only two or three people have complained about the ending.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great post Jess and so true!
Thanks for sharing!

Jessica Ferguson said...

Thank you, Pam!

The Cynical Sailor said...

Great post! How disappointing to get all the way through a book and find its tone has completely changed and it doesn't deliver on its promise.

Cheers - Ellen

Cherie Reich said...

It's so true a great or bad ending can make or break a book.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

That sounds like the ending wasn't just bad, but insulting. I'd never read a book like that.

And you're nicer than me for allowing a few good chapters at the end to sell the whole book. I need at least one character to root for in the entire book. I read a book, a best seller, that was very well written but I disliked the characters. No amount of good writing will sell me on a bad story.

Jessica Ferguson said...

Absolutely! Makes you want to read the end first. ;)
Thanks for commenting, Ellen.

Jessica Ferguson said...

So important, Cherie. Thanks for dropping in.

Jessica Ferguson said...

I’m very curious to read more of the fiction author’s work...just to see if maybe she was depressed when she wrote this one, but so far, I haven’t been motivated to look her up. Sad, that I’m judging these two authors by these books. :(

Jemi Fraser said...

It drives me nuts when the final pages don't follow through on the writer's promise to the reader! I read a "romance" a few years back that destroyed EVERYTHING in the final paragraph when the heroine decided the brother was cuter than they guy she'd spent the book with!!!! Will never read that author again