Lots of us like stories that end in a twist or reveal. I love both reading and writing them, but sometimes the story doesn’t quite work, and in the worst case scenario you don’t understand the end of the story. The fault of this mystery comes down to getting the right balance of foreshadowing (or slipping hints into the earlier parts of the story).
It’s a fine line to tread, you need to pepper your story with enough clues so that if someone was re-reading it they would slap their forehead and go ahh, it all seems so obvious now, but put too many of these in and everybody guesses how the story ends before they get there. Wouldn’t you have enjoyed ‘The Sixth Sense’ a lot less if Bruce Willis had put his hand through the door handle at the beginning?
This is where a writers group can be invaluable. My general rule of thumb is that if half the group gets it, then it works. Fewer than half, then you have been too subtle with your hints. Also, if more than a couple guess your end before they got there, then you have overdone it.
So what do you do when you don’t have a writers group? You force your story onto a bunch of readers and get their feedback! Having recently released a story where you needed to pick up the clues to understand the end I am now feeling the brunt of my subtlety. If you miss the clues in this story you can think that it is just an ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’ story (which is the kiss of death for an author). This has led to more than a couple of bad reviews. I had other hints I could have put in there, but I thought that would be sledgehammer-ing my reveal.
This story was written and published before I had a writer’s group, so as the editor ‘got it’ I figured I had my foreshadowing balance right. Now that it is on line I am discovering the majority of people don’t get it. What’s worse is when I explain it to people they shake their heads and say ‘nope, didn’t see that at all’.
Golden rule about writing fiction; if you need to explain your story, it is not well written.
I’m now on the edge of either a) pulling the story so there is no evidence beyond cached pages that it ever existed, and b) re-writing it with all the foreshadowing that I pulled out of the original version. I still like the premise, and the truth is there is a major continuity error that no-one seems to have picked up that I’ve wanted to fix ever since it came to me in the middle of the night a few months ago, so I think I’m going to go for the re-write.
So as much as one of my widest-read stories is also turning out to be one of my most disliked stories, at least I have learned a major lesson (which given all the times I blab on about how wonderful writers groups are you would have thought I would already have learned); always run a story past a group of readers before you send it anywhere (another golden rule).