It’s back, readers! I’ve finally gotten my act together and started the mailbag again so that I can respond to your thoughtful comments. We have something of a backlog at the moment, but I’ll do my best to move briskly and catch up in the coming weeks. This week I’m tackling my post wondering What will happen to the wall of books?, as well as Why happy endings are killing your story. So without further ado, let’s get to these long-suffering commenters! First, in the responses to What will happen to the wall of books?, mary brady said:
One problem I foresee is the ever-changing nature of digital storage. We’ve gone from floppy discs to the Cloud, & there is no guarantee an “old” Kindle or Nook will be compatible with some new technology in 5 (or fewer) years.
What I’m really asking is whether books on a digital platform are ‘collectible’–i.e., something you can keep for years and years in the original format you purchased? What if the Kindle ‘breaks’? Where is your book collection then? Will the makers gladly reload every book you (swear) was on it?
Thanks, Mary. Now that I’m the owner of a Kindle, I can say that Amazon does protect your texts; anything you buy can subsequently be downloaded to any new future kindle, which, I must admit, does better than paper books, which are generally are on a one-copy-for-your-money basis. But there remains the problem of changing formats. Amazon has its own format, which is incompatible with what seems to be the emerging standard, ePub. When will things get standardized? And will we have to rebuy the White Album again? Who knows?
Michael Washburn said:
In this connection, I would like to paraphrase (and expand upon) some of the points made by Epstein in his articles. He points out that an electronic medium, i.e., a “slim hard drive,” is an infinitely fragile, tenuous medium for preserving one book, let alone a library. At the push of a button or the click of a mouse — or with some other mishap that might erode a drive’s memory — the book or books stored there are no more…
Traditional (print) books may be less technologically sophisticated, but they have inherent advantages over e-books, which, again according to Epstein, do not and for the forseeable future will not represent more than a small fraction of publishing houses’ income. I think that all the above bodes well for the survival of the traditional medium.
Thanks, Michael. I agree: there are certain advantages the paper book has that the ebook has yet to match. I’m reminded of a New Yorker cover from a few years ago that has an alien landing on the surface of a clearly deserted future Earth. There among the broken and ruined trash of past e-readers, the alien is happily cozied up with a paper book, clearly the only thing capable of surviving for the long term. I also still feel that paper books have a “specialness” that can’t be matched. I recently bought two books I was eagerly anticipating, The Marriage Plot and 1Q84, as hardcover books merely because I wanted them in their physical form on my shelves.
After the jump: responding to questions and comments about happy endings.
I also wrote a post explaining Why happy endings are killing your story. Happy endings can be a menace; they give the sense of cessation, of an end to motion and growth.
I like to lead my character to the correct path, where they see how to get to happiness, and they have the ability to do so. Of course, this can only work in certain books and genres. Another way you could make the reader feel like the story continues after the last page is to point out the next adventure.
Thanks, Elemarth. Life at its best is a continuing adventure, so we should definitely imply that more adventures are on their way. When we stop acting curious or adventurous, we stop being ourselves — and what, then, is happy about that?
mary brady said:
I think it is fine to have an ‘upbeat’ ending, just not a cliche “happy ending.” My characters & their situations tend to be rather quirky. Ending with a small incident that implies (modest) hope for their future works pretty well for me, I think.
I also like using a small concrete ending that implies hope for a better future. To me, unhappiness is often the state of being still, of being “stuck” in some unhealthy way of thinking or feeling. Happiness starts to return when we get “unstuck.”
I really appreciate and agree with this post, especially with the big “happy ending” punch in the gut that was the Harry Potter epilogue I was reminded of recently.
The idea of a pleasant resolution is much more appealing than a happy ending. Leaving the characters on the up and up, even if every problem in their lives hasn’t been resolved is still very satisfying. I would rather see a character set on the right path with the right motivation to continue improving their situation than for everything to be conveniently resolved.
I also liked the Harry Potter ending, Kristen, but I’m going to be a little controversial here and say that I think the movie handled it better than the book. We get “all was well” in the book, but in the movie we get our grown-up characters looking after their children as they leave, clearly with slightly furrowed brows, worrying about their children as parents will do. The point isn’t that all is well; the point is that they have finally been allowed to grow up, and to have the concerns and cares that come with adulthood. It’s the strange, paradoxical freedom of responsibility.
Thanks, readers. Tune in next week for more responses!