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Satisfying Endings

My special guest today is Victoria Janssen. Victoria writes very sexy historicals for Spice and her new release, The Duke and the Pirate Queen sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to read it. Today she’s talking about Satisfying Endings. Over to Victoria…

The Duke and the Pirate QueenThough I read a lot, I was never good at articulating what made a satisfying ending for a novel. Over years of writing, I got better at endings, mostly thanks to fellow-workshoppers Ann Tonsor Zeddies and Holly Black and the trenchant comments they made on my first novel.

The main thing I learned from them was that if certain things don’t happen at the end of a novel, the reader won’t be happy (both have a gift for identifying what those things are). It’s not that those expected things are the same from book to book. It’s that you, the author, arouse expectations, and the reader wants those expectations satisfied; in fact, they want to be better than satisfied. They want you to come up with a solution that is better than they imagined.

Remember, you can always go backwards and insert expectations as you revise!

I liken this method of creating endings to Lois McMaster Bujold’s method of plotting, which seems to involve putting her lead character into the worst situation possible for them, continuing to make it worse, yet somehow pulling out success for them at the end, even if the success is tinged with failures…and somehow making those failures even more intriguing than total success would have been.

I don’t think I’m even close to Bujold’s level of plotting yet, but I did experiment a bit with The Duke and the Pirate Queen by moving back and forth between two plotlines, one primary and one secondary. To do that, I made sure that neither plotline dropped out of sight for too long, and I would mention each one briefly within the other so the reader could keep them both in mind. I used questions and cliffhangers to move from one plotline to the other. And both plotlines had to come together at the end. Events of the secondary plotline made the primary plotline possible, so they came together with (I hope) great satisfaction for the reader.

If you read the book, let me know how I did!

General blub:
The Duke and the Pirate Queen is set in the same world as The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover and features characters who appeared in that novel, Duke Maxime and Captain Imena Leung. Captain Leung is forced to abduct Duke Maxime, who is her employer, to thwart an assassination plot against him. He wants her. She wants him. Unfortunately, issues of birth, rank, and their own pasts are in conflict with their desires. And then there are the pirates, the storm, the hostile islanders…not to mention the sharks.

Excerpt, not from the ending because that would be a spoiler:

“Sir. Pirates, sir. Closing fast. Roxanne recognized the rigging on their mainsail. They’re from the Inland Sea, she says. To the north of the Horizon Empire.”

“Bloody flux in a hurricane.” Imena yanked a tunic over her singlet and belted on her cutlass. “Your Grace, you’d better go below. No, go with Norris. Into the cubby, Norris.”

“Sir,” Norris said.

“No,” Maxime said.

“Yes,” Imena said.

“Pirates aren’t after me in particular,” he said.

“You’re a valuable hostage, and you’re wasting my time,” she said.

“They won’t have any idea who I am. I might be able to help.”

And if pirates overran the ship, she wouldn’t want him to be trapped and helpless. She had a moment’s vision of finding his corpse, mangled and leaking blood onto the deck. Imena threw up her hands. “Fine. Don’t cry to me when they slice your ballocks off and wear them for earrings. Norris, get him a cutlass. And some clothes.”

“No pistols?” he asked as they hurried on deck.

“One shot and you’re left with a short club. No, thank you,” she said. “Stay behind me.”

“What if it comes to a fight?”

“Stay behind me,” she reiterated, though she wasn’t sure what she would do if he refused. She wouldn’t order the crew to subdue him unless his life was in immediate danger.

On deck, the crew were being issued weapons. Chetri stood near the prow, feet braced wide, a cutlass on either hip. Imena followed the direction of his gaze and had no trouble seeing not one, but two ships approaching rapidly, hull-up. He said, his voice eerily calm, “They came out of the sun. We were lucky Kiesha and Ailf had decided to seek a little privacy in the upper nest.”

Imena calculated rapidly in her head, changed a few variables, and calculated again. “It’s too late to run,” she said, regretfully. “Chetri? Am I wrong?”

He shook his head. “The wind is their friend today.”

Roxanne slid down the rigging and trotted over. “Oars, captain,” she said. She took a stone from her pocket and began sharpening the tip of her hook. “They keep oarsmen down below, so there’s no chance of being becalmed. Most carry cannon.”

Despite her years of privateering, Imena had never encountered the pirates of the Inland Sea; only once had she heard of them encroaching on the empire’s sea lanes, and the single ship had been quickly routed by the navy. The tales she’d heard about the Inland Pirates had made her glad of her escape, but now she wished she’d had some direct experience of them.

“I’ve fought them,” Chetri said. “I was a boy, but I remember it well.”

“Weaknesses?” Imena asked.

Chetri shook his head, his earrings chiming. “That would depend on the captain. Some are no worse than we might be. Some drink all sorts of potions before they go into battle, so they feel nothing and fear no one. The maddest of them build an immunity to certain poisons, so they may hold poisoned mastic in their mouths and thus spit poison at their enemies.”

Imena said, “We’ll expect the worst. Chetri, you’ll take the offensive fighters, but hold them unless you see an advantage in attack. Roxanne, you’ll command defense.”

Victoria Janssen website
Victoria Janssen blog