Over in the 'What makes a Book a Thriller' there's a post quoting a book that compares mysteries to suspense novels. It includes a whole bunch of 'rules' including:

"Mystery endings must be intellectually satisfying. Suspense endings must provide emotional satisfaction."

I think I've figured out why that one in particular bugs me ('cause, you know all rules bug me). Literature used to lead. The movies and TV followed. Movies are based on books - I know, I know, there are 'novelisations,' and some are very good, but usually that's the way it goes. Envelopes are pushed in books.

So, would a mystery novel (or suspense or thriller or even crime novel) ever have an ending like The Sopranos? Or like the end of my personal favourite, Season Two of The Wire? Even a few old Law and Orders ended with bad guys walking away free.

In the fifties movies and TV operated under a "volunteer" production code that included things like couples sleeping apart in single beds, and a lot more morality stuff (the thirties and forties were quite different, before HUAC, the Hollywood Ten and allthat), so books were where all the good stuff happened.

Are we now also falling into a kind of "volunteer" code where potential saleability of manuscripts affects the content/ Are we following too many rules?

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I think the "rules" are merely guidelines for what readers expect when a book is marketed in a certain genre. if you call your book a mystery, and your detective doesn't solve the puzzle in the end, well...

As for potential salability affecting content: Sure it does. There are certain subjects and situations that we know mainstream publishers won't touch, so we naturally shy away from them. Of course, if you don't care about salability, you can write anything you want to.
A genre by definition has rules, no?

But even within the strict format of Haiku, for example, tremendous things are possible.
Sure, there are some basic rules. All writing has rules (beyond those of the language of communication), but keep in mind that the boundaries between literary novels and any of the genre novels are pretty much hazy and have been crossed again and a again. Any novel obeys rules of organization, characterization, and setting. All novels aim to "please" and to communicate with readers. Some aim at a well-defined group who, say, are vegetarians, while others try to please the meat-and-potatoes crowd. Some cash in on fads; others stay with tried and true recipes. A few try to reeducate the public palate. But in any event, all of those options involve some adherence to what the target customer is willing to pay for. Getting to know your customer is advisable if you want to make money and become famous.
As an afterthought: I wasn't at all bothered by the ending in SOPRANOS. I'm mildly bothered by L&O cop-outs. There are many ways of ending a mystery as long as you you don't bore me to tears with a long explanation-of-clues-and-triumphant-announcement-of-most-unlikely-person-as-murderer chapter.
Probably just because the show's been on so long and already covered so much ground, but it seems to me there are more cop-out endings on Law and Order these days. Maybe it's a sign of more uncertain times and a desire for more order, or closure (ugh, I hate that word) or something.

I'm just wondering if the envelope pushing that used to be in books, particularly in crime books, is as strong as it was. Or has it been replaced by cable TV?
I'm not sure that "intellectually satisfying" means that there has to be a resolution that sees the person go to jail. Can it not be satisfying just to know whodunnit, maybe why, and they're still out there, an adversary for our protagonist? Think Rebus and Cafferty, Holmes and Moriarty.

Of course, it may be a cultural thing, in part. I understand Rankin sometimes has to add a bit to the end of the Rebus books for US publication. Personally, I enjoy some of the ambiguous endings... It leaves me wondering how it might play out in the future, but more than that, it feels real to me. You don't always get the bad guy.
Hmm. I guess it could be a cultural thing. Maybe we've just been taught to expect that.

P D James writes police procedurals that sometimes end with the police knowing who the killer is but being unable to prove it in court, so the killer never goes to jail. I guess that would be considered 'intellectually satisfying,' in that you know who did it and how, but not particularly 'emotionally satisfying' because the killer didn't pay for the crime.
Have you read Susan Hill, Sandra (see my post below). Her endings can be quite unexpected, breaking the bounds of what's normally acceptable in a novel. Only, I think, because she's British can she get away with it.
I don't mean to be dismissive of the thoughts put forth here, and I apologize in advance if anyone takes umbrage with this comment, but these kinds of discussions drive me up the wall. It's a "how many detectives can fight on the head of a pin?" sort of thing. I try to think of it all as "crime fiction" and leave it at that. Wouldn't it be nice if we could get publishers and booksellers to market them that way? The readers would come around to the more generic label and might even be exposed to things they would not have read before.
Well, I guess this kind of discussion is how we start to try and get publishers and booksellers to market them that way. I would also love it under a more generic label that might expose more people to more kinds of books.

Here, this guy said it way better than I ever could: http://www.johnrickards.com/archives/2007/11/01/our-genre-has-no-cl...
It won't stop readers from cubby-holing stories to their own taste -- which in turn will produce writers writing to those tastes as soon as the cubby-hole becomes significantly large. Especially when editors prod them into doing so.
Not to give away the ending - but one of the very best mystery novels I've read in a long time is Pure In Heart by Susan Hill. ANd the ending is certainly NOT intellectually satisfying. It is, however, realistic. Hill is English, and I would be surprised if an ending like that ever happened in a U.S. published novel. I find that English novels are far more likely to bend the 'rules' somewhat that American ones. And, IMHO, they're the better for it.


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