58% HAPPY RULE
Oh my God, so many people are so mad at me for what I wrote in my last entry about literary novelists. People, I was totally joking. I mean, I would never say anything mean about literary novelists, especially since I am actually sort of related to some (well, through my mom's boyfriend's daughter's husband's family).
So I feel uniquely qualified to state that literary novelists are just like the rest of society in general:
–80% of them are really, really nice.
–10% of them are pretentious jerks who think genre novelists are the dirt beneath their feet and have no compunction in telling us so, either to our face or to the New York Times Book Review.
–and the other 10% of them are total letches who will hit on you in the green room at any book festival they happen to be attending at the same time you are, even after you've told them you are married.
But the treatment I and my fellow genre-fiction writers have received at the hands of some literary novelists is not why I don't read literary novels anymore. I USED to read literary novels. I highly recommend WEST OF VENUS and FROM THE BLACK HILLS by my brilliant first college creative writing teacher, Judy Troy, who is a goddess, and a book called THE END OF VANDALISM by Tom Drury (although, let me just warn you, I got suckered into reading this book because Mr. Drury had a number of hilarious short stories in the New Yorker, so I couldn't wait for his book in order to see what happened to the characters in the end…and it turned out that what happened to my favorite character was HORRIBLE. I mean, the book is still incredibly good, but be prepared to bummed out after reading it, if you are anything like me).
I just don't see what's so wrong with choosing to read books with HAPPY endings, and there just aren't that many of those in literary fiction. I don't know what gives. Do literary authors think my life is just so fun-filled and frivolous that I deserve to be bummed out once in a while by their prose, or something? Did they not even READ my 9/11 blog entry? Have these authors ever considered that someone reading their book might also be having some personal difficulties, and that all they want from the book they're reading is a little emotional up-lift? Is that so hard for these authors to supply?
Now, I know there a lot of people out there who haven't had much personal tragedy in their lives, or who have, but just like a good cry now and then. That's why literary novels—and Nicholas Sparks—will always have an eager audience. So personally, I'm not too worried about the fate of the literary novel.
And I think it's important that children and teens are forced to read books with sad endings—such as The Scarlet Letter and Mill on the Floss–in school, because if I had to suffer through them, everyone should.
I have just personally had enough of unhappy endings to last me a LIFETIME. So why would I seek them out in my recreation time? Unhappy endings happen every single day in real life. I don't want them in my fiction.
Now, I'm NOT saying every book I read has to have a 100% happy ending. I am willing to settle for 58%. Which is what I call the 58% Happy Rule, and which I try to stick with in my own writing. In the 58% happy rule, the heroine might have solved the murder, but not gotten the guy she loves…yet. Or she might have gotten the guy she loves, but his family hates her due to a hideous booger incident. Get what I mean? It's HAPPY…but not COMPLETELY happy. Kind of like life.
The 58% Happy ending, in case you're interested, was invented by writers of series fiction (such as Charles Dickens) because they wanted readers coming back to buy the next installment in the series, and readers won't necessarily do that if the previous installment ended 100% happy (no reason to read more) or 100% awful (no desire to read more). If things are 58% happy, but there's still 42% room for worry, often readers will buy the next book just to make sure things turn out OK.
The 58% Happy ending is most often used to insure future sales of series fiction, but can also be used effectively in stand-alone novels if the author wants to seem more literary. Feel free to incorporate my 58% Happy Rule into your own fiction, if you are an author (also, if you are an author and are sick of people asking you where you get your ideas, feel free to use my answer: “At the Idea Store.” Be prepared for people to actually believe you, though).
In other news, He Who Shall Not Be Named In This Blog has asked me to PLEASE stop singing Fergie's part from the Black-Eyed Peas song “My Humps.” But that is just impossible while I still have all these lovely lady lumps leftover from Thanksgiving.
Also, did you hear that readers don't need to worry that the movie version of THE DA VINCI CODE will be different from the book, because Dan Brown was on the set during filming EVERY SINGLE DAY? Hello, do you know how BORING it is on a film set? You go, Dan Brown. If I had $75 million, which is how much Forbes said Dan's earned from his book this year alone, I'd spend all MY time hanging around a film set, too (NOT).
And how hilarious is it that Nick and Jessica didn't have a pre-nup? I LOVE it. Now THAT is turning out to be a story with a 58% happy ending.