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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What about the Cat?


Do you need closure in the books you read and the movies you watch? Does it bug you when you’ve invested a few hours in a movie but you don’t get a sense of closure and leave the theater or turn off your TV feeling unsatisfied? Many TV series will end the season with a cliffhanger that has you hungering for the new season to start. I understand that. It’s much like ending a chapter of a book with a hook. But what I’m talking about is a movie with a beginning, middle and end, only there’s not so much of an ending.

How do you feel when you read a book or story and there’s no real closure? I thought about this recently when a friend told me about a serial story she read. There was no ending, and you had to buy the next installment to see what happens. My friend was upset and said she wouldn’t buy the next one because she wanted an ending to the one she read. I agreed.

I want a satisfying ending to the movies I watch and the stories I read. And I want the authors to tie up all loose ends. A few years ago, I read a book by one of the top selling mystery authors in the country. I’d never read any of his books, but since a friend gave it to me, I felt obligated to read it. This one was written in collaboration with someone else. It was okay, not great. There were three different mysteries intertwined. In two of the mysteries, the crime was solved and we found out who the villain was. The third story was left hanging, as if the authors forgot about that thread. It was just dropped. We never learned “whodunit.” I wanted to throw the book across the room. I’d read through the whole thing and I didn’t get closure.

A while back I read a book by one of my favorite authors (I don’t want to name names here). He writes suspense. This book was great with an intriguing premise: that Hitler won WW2. However, much as I love this author and as much as I enjoyed that book, the ending left me hanging. Did the protagonist die to sacrifice himself for the greater good? The author never said. I suspect he left it open on purpose so the readers could come to their own conclusion. That bothered me. I wanted to know in no uncertain terms what happened to the hero.

On a related topic, a playwright whose name escapes me, famously said something like this: If you have a gun in the first scene, you’d better use it by the last scene. If you put a character, an animal, an item of importance in the story, you’d better let us know what happens to that character, animal, item. Don’t insert someone or something, give it importance, then forget all about it.

Case in point: years ago I read a romantic suspense by one of my favorite romance authors. This book was very good. The heroine had a cat who figured prominently throughout the story. At the end, the villain set fire to the heroine’s house. The heroine escaped, and the ending showed her getting medical attention, the hero by her side, and the bad guy in custody. But no mention was made of her cat who was in the house with her. I kept wondering, “What about the cat?” Did it die in the fire? Did it escape? I read and reread the last chapter trying to find the cat, but nothing. It would have taken just one line to let us know. Something like, “Fluffy had escaped too, and was her usual playful self.” This was in the days before the Internet. If I read it now, I’d find a way to contact that author and ask her about the cat. Some may think I’m a crazy cat lady, and maybe I am, but the heroine’s cat was woven all through the story and given importance. And then it was dropped.

A top-selling crime author who lives in my area writes a weekly column for a local paper. Recently, she gave a very moving tribute to her elderly neighbor who’d died. She’d talked about him and his cat in other columns. In her tribute, she never mentioned the cat. I contacted her through her website and asked what happened to the neighbor’s cat. She wrote a very nice reply saying she’d taken the cat and it was living with her and her menagerie of pets. Then, a few weeks later, she wrote in her column that she’d had so many people write her to ask about the cat and she wanted to assure all of us the cat was fine and living with her. So, I’m not the only one who asks, “What about the cat?” We readers want closure.

I just finished a terrific book by another favorite author. The book was great, and I couldn’t put it down. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that captured my interest the way this one did. In the book, the heroine has a cat whom she loves very much. When the heroine is in jeopardy, the hero wants to take her to his hotel to protect her. But she doesn’t want to leave her cat. He tells her a cat can stay alone overnight. True. Then, the story goes on and the heroine is living at the hotel for at least two days and nothing is said about the cat. Again, I’m thinking, “What about the cat? Doesn’t she have to feed it and clean the litter box?” Finally, the hero says he’s taking her back to her place to feed the cat. And the heroine goes something like this, “OMG. I forgot about my cat.” I love this author, but I think she messed up a little here. If that heroine loved her cat as much as the author made us think, she wouldn’t have forgotten about it. I wonder if her editor realized nothing was said about the cat and inserted that. At the end, when the hero and heroine are in Hawaii together, the heroine thinks about the friend who’s watching her cat. At least in this book, I got closure. The cat was okay.

Despite my emphasis on cats, I do have a bigger point. Give the readers closure, a satisfying ending, and if you put in a pet or a friend or an item and give it importance, don’t drop it from the story. Readers like me take notice. You don’t want your readers asking, “What about the cat? Or the dog? Or the necklace? Or the friend?”

What do you think? How do you feel about books and movies without proper endings? Have you ever wondered after watching a movie or reading a book, “What about the (insert name here)?” Can you tell us about them?

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Rose Anderson said...

lol what ABOUT that cat? I don't like to be left hanging either. A line somewhere about the cat washing the soot from his face would have been good. Cute post, Cara. :)

Tina Donahue said...

I like closure in stories. That said, some are so memorable (for example, the Millennium Trilogy by Larsson), I keep thinking about the characters and what they're doing after the book(s) end. :)

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Rose. I like your line about the cat washing soot from its face. I'm glad I'm not the only inquiring mind who wants to know what about the cat.

Thanks, Tina. I know what you mean. As much as I wanted closure on the WW2 suspense book, I kept thinking about the book and the characters long after I finished it because I didn't know what happened to the hero.

Judy Baker said...

I love reading stories with animal, as long as they end good. Most of my books have a dog, cat or a horse in them. And they are always mentioned in the end. Good post.

vicki batman said...

Hi, Cara! You would think someone one (editor, friend, critique partner) would have read these stories and said something. I don't even think I would read a book about Hilter winning WW2. Ick.

Looks like someone spammed too.

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Judy, I have put cats in many of my short stories and books, but nothing bad ever happens to them. All my stories have happy endings.

Vicki, that WW2 story was excellent. It's not exactly what you might think. It's got suspense and conspiracy theories galore.

Paris said...

Hi Cara,

Great post! I do like closure when it comes to things like pets and friends that have figured predominantly in the story. We all know that cat owners do not forget their pets (nor do dog owners). I would never believe that.

jean hart stewart said...

Gotta have closure!!!! I absolutely hate it when you don't. I've had many animals in my books, but never forget them at the ending...

R. Ann Siracusa said...

I believe you have to have tie up the loose ends and had closure. What did happen to the cat? Occasionally, I've been satisfied with an ambiguous ending (did they get together or not?) but not usually. I agree with Jean. Gotta have closure!!! I guess not all authors agree with that.

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Paris, Jean and Ann. We're all in agreement about closure, especially when it comes to living creatures like pets and animals. If I could remember the title of that one book where the author never mentioned what happened to the cat, I'd find the author's website and ask her.

Melissa Keir said...

I do need closure. Sometimes those small things can nag at me for days! I would want to know about the cat too, even if it did die in the fire.

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Melissa. I'm with you. Maybe we just have inquiring minds, but we need closure.

Sandy said...

What about that Cat? I would have asked the question, too, Cara. I agree all questions should be answered pertaining to the main characters.

If you have secondary characters who will show up in another book (like a series) then it's okay to leave a question hanging.

Janice Seagraves said...

Oh, yes, I like closure. Thanks to romance books, I am now fully addicted to the happily ever after or at the very least the happily for now ending.

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