Similarly, as the characters wrote The Point of a Gun, through murders and terrorist attacks and government searches, I had no idea how it would end. As Samms and the President coyly moved things along for their own purposes, I was as absolutely stunned at the end by the reaction of one of either May or Cheese (no, I’m not telling which one!) as readers will be. I didn’t know where the story was going and I sure didn’t see their surprise coming. And I don’t think the readers will either. Only the character in question drove it to a conclusion that shocked me. I could never have created (okay, without them, anyway) this surprise.
We’ve all read books where the author (no, I’m not going to throw any specifically named writers under the bus here) is carrying us toward what we know is going to be a surprise ending. We know this because the obvious ending is too … well … obvious. And we begin to get frustrated as we realize that the author has written himself into a corner. All the possible surprise endings are preposterous and totally unrealistic. The book is getting to the point where the author trapped him or herself into that exciting corner. But the “surprise” ending is: a) not a surprise, and b) preposterous. Nevertheless the book was fun to that point.
To my mind, that is the result of writing with the sole purpose of surprising the reader. Sometimes they get you to the end and there’s a surprise waiting. But sometimes the characters rebel and simply don’t allow it. If you force even a fictional character into unnatural acts, the writer can’t save them or the reader from the outcome.
That brings us to Elmore Leonard … on second thought, let’s hold that thought for a minute.
My first historical fiction Western, Where They Bury You, has an opening scene that was literally a virtual afterthought, written well after the book was well along. It introduces a young woman, travelling on a stagecoach to Santa Fe to become a “poker dealer,” being helped at a stagecoach station by an Army Major. I created both characters—Lily Smoot and Major John Arnold—with no plan for either of them whatsoever. They were interesting characters, to be sure. Backdrops. But important? Not to me. And certainly not to the nonfictional characters in this 1863 factual murder mystery, who actually lived in those tough times and through all the stressful realities of both the Civil and Indian Wars.
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