The Writer’s Prerogative

I was talking with a friend the other day, and he admitted that since our last conversation I had blown his mind. What, I wondered, was this amazing thing that I had done?

Earlier in the year he had read my first book: The book with the missing first page. That hadn’t blown his mind, I think he had liked it, but that wasn’t the issue at hand. When we had last chatted, we had talked about the book and he had casually asked about one of the stories, I forget which one exactly, but one of the stories that stops quite abruptly. He said, “it stopped so abruptly, but it’s been bugging me, what actually happened next?”

“Well,” I said, “whatever you want.”

“No. There must be an actual answer. You wrote the story. What happened next?”

“I could make up something,” I said, “but it would only be as valid as whatever you made up. And to be honest I don’t know.”

He’d gone away at the end of this conversation, and thought about it. And now he was back to say, his mind had been blown.

After that, he had gone away and found that everything he had read had seemed more fake to him. As though he hadn’t realised that authors were making up the stories he was reading.

“Surely,” I said, “you knew that authors were making up the stories that you were reading.”

“Yes, of course I do,” he said.

But the part he hadn’t been aware of was the way in which, even in stories which didn’t end abruptly, the author had been controlling his entire expectations of what was going on.

I suppose he hadn’t realised how much he was in the author’s hands. And the way he noticed was to speak to an author for the first time and realise that authors actually don’t always know what happens next either.

So does anyone have any questions? Please ask them, even if you think they sound mad. What they might lead to could be very interesting.

16 thoughts on “The Writer’s Prerogative

  1. fourstar says:

    The fact that quite a few of your short stories left things hanging was one of the key factors to my enjoyment of the book. I also really like the 'teeth' one because it was so weird 🙂

  2. Alex Andronov says:

    I think it's one of the things that I really like too.My favourite thing when I meet people for the first time is trying to imagine what is going to happen next to them.And my favourite thing when reading a story is the same thing. Which is why I do the same.I remember my first creative writing exercise was to continue on from one of the Narnia books. I loved this idea, and I'm sure it's affected me quite deeply.I tend to love forcing people to decide for themselves what happens, because… well…When has there ever been a real story with a beginning, middle and end? Never. Even if it's birth, life and death they leave reality behind. It's more honest not to tidy those ends away. And, I think, they are the most fun parts.

  3. Paul Freeland says:

    It's funny you should write this post Alex. When I started reading your book, I was a little annoyed/disappointed with some of the stories. I don't normally read short stories anyway. But I found if I read one, then stopped and just left it, it would start to take life in the back of my mind.Sometimes more is less, just look at Neil Stephenson's books!and yes, teeth was weird ;-). There are some fun thoughts in that book.

  4. Alianora La Canta says:

    Hanging stories tend to make me feel weird, because I find I can't see where the author intended to go and therefore wonder if there's any point finishing the story off in my head either. Yet clearly hanging stories are not designed to be read that way.

  5. Alex Andronov says:

    @PaulI think being slightly annoying is probably a good thing. I hate the idea that people would get to the end of it all and be a bit middling about the whole experience.

  6. Alex Andronov says:

    @AlianoraEven the decision to carry it on is an interesting concept to me. When I read books I fall in love with it always makes me wonder where the characters are headed next.

  7. kris says:

    There is an actual answer, it just seems that you don't know it.

  8. Alex Andronov says:

    @kris I think that's not quite right. If I create the characters and then choose not to end the story then there is no right answer.

  9. mr. c. says:

    i do think you'll struggle to get hollywood interested in your writing :)i can see the appeal in a short story, where you've likely invested only a little emotion. i wonder how it would translate to a full-blown novel, and if that might be more annoying?

  10. fourstar says:

    But surely, unless the book ends with the destruction of the entire universe, all fiction continues after the final page. You may have 'closure' on the particular part you just read, but you are perfectly able to wonder what happens next. No?

  11. Sean Golding says:

    While I must confess that I haven't actually read any of your stories (although the book is currently in the mail!) I agree that sometimes the best ending is your own ending. Not always mind you, I'm suggesting that all authors cut of the last chapter of their books or anything, but it is often more rewarding to imagine where the story leads rather than just read it.

  12. Alex Andronov says:

    @mr ci wonder how it would translate to a full-blown novel, and if that might be more annoying?That's very true. It does kind of happen in series of novels. You might read part 1 and not know what happens next until the author decides to write part 2. I've heard about a series book about a wizard that does something similar ;)More seriously the books don't cover Harry popping to the loo at any point during his 7 years at school but I imagine he must have. There is something similar here. You just have to leave somethings to your imagination. However I do think it probably does happen more with short stories than with novels. Partly because it's risky.

  13. Alex Andronov says:

    @fourstarcouldn't agree more.

  14. Alex Andronov says:

    @Sean GoldingI agree it shouldn't happen every time, but I enjoy it when it happens.

  15. Nick Ollivère says:

    I think the difference between 'closure' and 'ending' that fourstar pointed out is crucial. Every story, no matter how long or short, will end when there are still things left to happen in the lives of the characters. What matters is that there is closure, and this relates to the beginning of the story. Why did the story begin where it began? Why did whatever voice is telling us this story begin telling it? When you've answered that, I think you can easily understand when and how it ends.

  16. kris says:

    If I create the characters and then choose not to end the story then there is no right answer.I don't agree. Just because you don't know what it is, that doesn't mean it isn't.

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