Why I chose an alternative ending

Dreda Say Mitchell tells us why she chose to write an alternative ending for her new novel Death Trap.

Posted on October 9, 2015 in Guest Author
Tags: Dreda Say Mitchell

We all know the feeling. You get to the last page of a book and after a few final twists the culprit is revealed, the ends are tied up and the gateway into future books is laid out if it’s a series. But even when we like what we get, there may sometimes be half a feeling – I’m not sure about that ending? Perhaps it could have been done differently? If the villain is one we like, could he not have been brought back for the next book rather than gunned down by a victim’s relative on the last page? Or would it have been better if he had met a hideous end rather than escaping into the night? Fortunately authors have an option available to circumvent this problem and it’s the alternative ending which I’ve chosen to conclude my new thriller, Death Trap.

DTrAuthors think about this more than people realise. There are some lucky writers who’ve got the whole story mapped out before they write the first sentence. But for others, they’re still chewing the end of their pencils thinking about the ending even as the final chapter looms up. Of course there are some rules that have to be obeyed. No one’s going to buy the detective who ends the book by musing, ‘I wonder who done it then and why?’ And nothing’s more likely to wind up a reader than a murderer who only makes an appearance ten pages before the final one. But given those parameters, there are always options. Some authors are as eager to know who done the dirty deed as their readers are and when there’s a range of suspects, they can always choose for themselves.

The alternative ending solves these problems. Not sure if it was Ms Y or Mr X who pulled the trigger? Write them both and let the reader decide for themselves, it’s the ultimate in authorial democracy. And readers are always ready to let you know what they think and can be very proprietorial about the stories they read if they like them; I know I certainly am. More than one author has had an angry reader who doesn’t like what happens to ‘their’ character when a book draws to close. But given an alternative ending, they can make their own mind up. Of course, authors who go down that route will always come under suspicion that they were to lazy to make a decision or hadn’t done the groundwork properly. But then authors come under suspicion of so many things, that one more won’t make any difference.

In my latest book Death Trap I’ve opted for the alternative ending. Naturally I’ll be maintaining that this is because the book is fizzing with so many clever twists that I was left with no choice but to explore two different ways of bringing it to a close. I’m confident that readers will be agreeing with me. But of course if they don’t, I’m equally confident that they’ll be letting me know in no uncertain terms.


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