Recently, I received feedback from one of my beta readers about a YA short story of mine, and they pointed out that I had set the reader up for a surprise ending but hadn’t delivered.
And of course, they’re right. In this draft, the narrator tells the reader all along that the ending will go one of two ways. And when it finally does go one of those two ways, it is ultimately unsatisfying.
I think the truth is, that in this first draft I was still kind of figuring out where the story was going as I wrote. And clearly, that’s still pretty evident in the text.
On to the fix!
I’m currently working on a separate document that I’ve organized in landscape with three columns. They are:
- What is the truth?
- What does my protagonist believe?
- What do I want the reader to believe?
Now that I’ve written through to the end, I can go back and bullet point out the key points/truths in the story under the “What is the truth?” column, and then fill in what I want my protagonist and reader to believe for each of those points.
For some plot points, all three columns might be the same, and at others they will have to be slightly different. Because in this story, there are times that I want my reader to have a sense of dread even when my protagonist does not. In order to do this, I’m working in third person omniscient at the moment to make it a bit easier for the reader and protagonist to see the same event differently, though of course the drawback is a distancing from my protagonist.
So as I go through the story – pulling out the plot points and truths in this world and figuring out how I want those points to be analyzed/read – I’m hoping to eliminate the need for a third ending and instead take the ending that I have (and like) and turn that into the surprise through a much stronger and consistent use of misdirection.