Sass, Character, And A Good Dose Of Tragedy (TCWT)

Sass, Character, And A Good Dose Of Tragedy (TCWT)

It’s time for the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain for this month, and the theme is beginnings and endings: the question simply “What are your favourite book beginnings and endings?” I’m just going to apologise before I start — this might not be my most coherent post because I’m shattered from shopping all afternoon. Yes, I know, me and shopping aren’t exactly bosom friends. But hey, I now own Moomin pyjamas, so who’s the real winner here?

Let’s start at the very beginning, since it’s a very good place to start. I like openers that surprise me, that catch me out, because that shows me that this book’s going to be a little bit different from others of the genre. Beginnings that don’t go where I’m expecting them to.

For example, the beginning of City Of Bones really stood out to me when I first read it. In most YA novels, the hot and slightly weird-looking guy with blue hair that you see outside a nightclub would be the guy you fall in love with. Instead, this guy’s a red herring, dead within the first chapter — and it’s the one who killed him that the protag falls for. That for me said, “Something’s different about this,” and kept me reading, because it turned a trope on its head and suggested there’d be less of the whole “insta-love” thing.

On a similar note, I like the sort of beginnings which suggest the book is completely different from anything I’ve read before. The Book Thief is always one that stands out, because it has an incredibly unusual first page. I don’t trust blurbs. I think blurbs often give an incredibly misleading description of a blurb — if I was depending on blurbs, I’d never have read The Raven Boys, and it’s only because Maggie Stiefvater’s a favourite of mine that I decided to risk it. As for City Of Bones, it’s lucky I didn’t get as far as the back cover.

So the first page is crucial, because if it doesn’t catch my attention, the book’s probably not going home with me. And The Book Thief has one of the best:

20140915_194738-1Everything about it is perfect. The first two lines trigger questions that keep you reading. What colours? And if the narrator isn’t a human, who are they? The interjection to inform you that you’re going to die not only takes you aback, but suggests that the novel isn’t going to be conventional in its narrative style, because most books don’t have capital letters informing you of SMALL FACTS.

Also, inevitable mortality as just a ‘small’ fact? You kind of want to know what the narrator thinks of as a large fact…

I like beginnings that set the tone of the novel perfectly, such as the opening to The Night Circus. The opening description of the circus is so eerie and haunting, but kind of beautiful, and that just sums up the whole book. It draws you in, because you want to know why there’s a circus, and why it’s only open at night, and where it came from and where it’s going and why? why? why? because that’s the question you want readers to ask, because it means they’ll keep reading.

But finally, I like the kind of beginnings that make me laugh. I love the beginning of Good Omens because it starts out just as funny as the rest of the book, because it has wonderful observations about the M25, and because it makes you wonder what on earth you’re getting yourself into — and because of that, it’s brilliant. Honestly, if you’ve been reading my blog for more than an hour and you haven’t read Good Omens yet, you’re making a mistake.

Now onto endings. I’m a little bit harder to please with endings, especially for long books or for series. They have to be perfect, and a lot of the time I just end up infuriated. I hate the kinds of endings when characters end up completely going against their personality in order to make other people happy or whatever, in a manner entirely out of character with the rest of the book / series. (See: Jenny in The White Horse Trick; Katniss in Mockingjay.) Both of those endings just seemed wrong for the characters.

And I don’t like endings that are too neat. I like ambiguity, the more heartbreaking the better — where it depends on your interpretation of a character to decide whether or not you think they’d have gone through with something they said they’d do. I write these kinds of endings quite a lot, and I always end up thinking about all the possibilities long after the book’s finished. More fuel for the fanfic writers with all the potential AUs, I guess…

It’s hard to talk about my favourite endings without giving away spoilers. I like the bittersweet endings that become more and more bitter the more you think about them, like The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. You know, that book doesn’t hit you as tragic until a couple of hours later when you’re thinking about it and suddenly you realise oh my hamlet that’s awful no how could that why. The ending of The Night Circus is also excellent (it’s just a really good book, go read it), and has a slightly similar tone to it.

But really, the main thing I love in an ending is something that means I can’t stop thinking about it for ages, whether it’s a plot twist or something completely soul-destroying. I mentioned both of these in my post about books that have stayed with me, but there are two books that come to mind for this one. First, The Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite, which completely shocked me to the core the first time I read it because it seemed so cruel and yet such a perfect end to the book. And secondly, Ptolemy’s Gate, because it had everything that made that series great: sass, fleshed-out characters, and a good dollop of tragedy.

Those are two books where I’ll never forget the ending. Because sometimes I do, when it’s been a few months or years, and I read them again as though for the first time, trying to second-guess what happens. I found that when I reread The Shadow In The North, and the ending there hit me with full force. I’d completely forgotten that it was tragic, and I’m glad that I did, because it blew me away. I reviewed it, actually, over here.

So, I like beginnings that surprise me and convince me that the book is something a bit different, and I like endings that are open to interpretation, as well as endings that completely break my heart so that I end up forcing those books on everybody that I know because I want them to feel my pain. Pretty much sums me up, really.

Here’s the rest of the chain.

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and (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

12 thoughts on “Sass, Character, And A Good Dose Of Tragedy (TCWT)

  1. MOOMIN PAJAMAS!!! (Sorry, but I love Moomin. Great choice. Anyways, moving on.)

    The Book Thief was awesome. I loved literally everything about it, especially Death. Which constitutes the awesome beginning :D The Night Circus is another one of my eternal favs, I just couldn’t put it down. And The Ocean At The End Of The Lane sounds like a super-intriguing book; it’s on my very, very long to-read list, ahaha. Thanks so much for the recommendation :)

    1. ‘Ocean’ is actually not particularly long, if that boosts it up your list at all? It’s a fairly quick read. :)

      MOOMINS 5EVA. (I will never understand people who don’t like Moomins, which is why my friend Charley baffles me, since she has an illogical terror of them. Sigh.)

  2. Good post. I definitely agree about Ptolemy’s Gate— I think I said that on another of your past posts, but it bears repeating. And The Book Thief is one of the best books in terms of everything, beginning and ending.

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