Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thusness (and the importance of a jolly good ending)

I don't see "Thusness" being talked about very much. One of my English professors at Homerton College, Cambridge, taught me the expression and the concept, and I've never forgotten it.

At the time, I believe we were studying Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Epic poetry. Medieval Fantasy SpecRom opera with never-ending quests for the Holy Grail, swords, sorcery, treachery, maidens being surprised in their bathtubs by horny rotters. Inspiring stuff, really! That's what I remember. But it could have been Browning, or Coleridge.

Maybe someone will want to tell me that the Arthurian legends aren't SpecRom. I might answer that it all depends who is retelling them, and how.

The bottom line with "Thusness" --as I internalized it-- is that all the interwoven story threads are tied up so neatly by the end of the story that the reader is left with a feeling of great satisfaction and justice. Not only is everything explained (that needs to be explained), but there is harmony, balance, and maybe that forehead-slap of enlightenment.

"Thusness" makes a story memorable and thought-provoking (in a pleasurable way) after the last word has been read, and the book has been put away... or returned to the library. The ending is "right" and has a quality of inevitability. Of course, in a romance, it is generally accepted that, inevitably, the hero and the heroine will live happily ever after together.

That's not quite what I mean by "inevitability."

Perhaps "thusness" is like the old definition of obscenity. "...I know it when I see it."

If that is the case, how does a writer achieve "Thusness"? Some of us are plotters, outliners, linear writers. Others are pantsers, channellers. Some do both. Some put a book together like a jigsaw (I do). Some plan it like dinner... you know, it has a beginning (starter), a middle (main course), and an ending (the pudding).

"Pudding" might not be entirely felicitous. Some end with a Bombe Surprise, or cheesecake, others with a swiggable yoghurt or quick coffee. It's all good, but probably it's most satisfying if it is a balanced meal.

I try for thusness. If I have three prologues (of course, they cannot be called that), I need three epilogues. This might mean that a lot has to be cut from the middle to meet the publisher's page limit (about 400 double spaced pages at 250 wpp).

Once the ending is written --and not all authors know the details of how their heroes' stories will end when they begin-- well, then you have the linear warp, but not the weft (weaving imagery). Then, knowing how your story ends, you go back to the beginning and weave in the almost-invisible details at regular intervals.

Perhaps your editor wants the villain to be badder. (Given that badder is good English). For "Thusness" as I see it, it isn't enough to put super bad thoughts into his point of view one scene before he gets his come-uppance, though that would be the quickest and easy edit... and on a deadline, quick and easy is very tempting! In my opinion, the first time the reader sees this villain he has to be doing something bad, although it could be stealth wickedness. We may not recognize his evil for what it is, after all, he hasn't been caught.

And so it goes. A hint is woven in, and it has to be repeated, not necessarily every seventy pages, but that's a reasonable rough guide. The Imperial March was a pretty cool tune. They say the devil gets all the best tunes. It took a while before we realized that it meant that the bad guy was up to no good. Same with the Jaws horn riff. (If horns can riff).

Because Jolly Good Endings and striving for "Thusness" is important to me, I was thrilled with a recent review by "Bookmaedin" posted at

"This book also has one of the best ending sequences. Everyone in the story pulls together against a common enemy. Ms. Cherry has created a seriously evil villain. What goes around comes around, and it definitely came back on this villainous specimen.

Trust me, INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL is a book you don’t want to miss. Be sure to check out the back-story in Rowena Cherry’s previous book, Forced Mate.

~Review by bookmaedin for iBookDB Review: Insufficient Mating Material"

INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL will be in bookstores on January 30th.

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