I need help finishing my sci/fantasy novel. I’m about 90% sure I know how I want it to end, but I have a few tweaks and decisions to make. I want to make sure I get this right. Everything I’ve read has told me the ending has to be perfect.
A bit of background: the protagonist is a 15-year-old who’s extremely smart by today’s standards, but just average in his time. The first third of the novel is set in a future society with advanced technology. (It’s not too dystopian or anything, just a plausible future except that in this world there was no Pearl Harbor, Kennedy survived his assassination attempt, and Mark Zuckerberg did LSD in high school on a dare. I show-not-tell this all pretty nicely in chapter 4, I think, when the protagonist is in history class.) The most important thing to know is that the protagonist is really lonely. Like, planet-that’s-been-cast-out-of-its- orbit-and-floats-through-space-without-a-star kind of lonely. He can’t figure out why no one likes him (especially his father), why every day feels worse, or why the world is the way that it is. He tries to invent something that will give him answers, but he accidentally opens a wormhole that sends him to a fantasy world with magic but no technology whatsoever. Think Back To The Future meets A Song Of Ice And Fire. Sort of. I’m still working on the pitch.
Here’s the first big problem: some early readers (my older brother) have said this is inconsistent, illogical, and a book killer. He said technology and wormholes are theoretically possible, but magic is stupid and doesn’t exist. (He used some language I don’t feel comfortable posting, but I think you get the idea.) He also said that escaping to a fantasy land means the protagonist is afraid to deal with his problems, that no one wants to read about someone who whines and runs away instead of fighting back, and that the protagonist sounds like a coward. (Again, I’m paraphrasing a little.) Can magic and science coexist in my story without ruining it? Can it still be worthwhile? Is it okay for the protagonist to escape for a bit, since ultimately he has to go back to confront the life he hates?
This is the next big problem. Another early reader (my mom, lol, don’t laugh), said she doesn’t understand why the protagonist would try to go back to his home after he’s seen the charm and beauty of the magical world. “If I escaped to a place like that,” she said, “ I don’t think I’d ever come back.” Then she seemed too distracted to give me any more notes.
I’m open to feedback, but I’m pretty sure the protagonist has to come back for it to be a full plot, even if he doesn’t want to. ‘Guy runs away and is lost forever’ doesn’t make for too good of a logline (even if Lost Forever would be a cool title).
And I guess this leads to my last big question. When the protagonist makes it home, he finds that everyone has missed him and has been frantically searching for him. They’re thrilled to see him again, his father most of all, and finally he isn’t so lonely anymore. But when my stepdad read it, he told me the ending was bullshit and completely unbelievable, that when the protagonist was gone everyone was probably better off. “Quit wasting my time with this shit,” he said, and he let the draft thunk into the trash bin under his desk. “Now get the fuck out of my study.” (Sorry for the language. I tried to paraphrase this, too, but it didn’t quite do him justice.)
I wrote a different, better ending, but I want to make sure — is it okay that nothing’s really changed, that at the end of the journey everything for the protagonist is mostly the same? I should clarify: he is glad he went on the adventure, but not because it made his life so much better. It’s because he was able to get away, to see another way of living in the world. Does that make sense?
Thanks in advance for the feedback. Really excited to finish so I can start the sequel. I think I already have a few good ideas.
Jacob Ginsberg is a writer and tutor living in Philadelphia, PA. He earned his MFA at Temple University. His work has appeared in Tiny Molecules and is forthcoming from Boudin, the online home of The McNeese Review.
image: Lindsay Hargrave