California Chrome Winning the Preakness - Creative Commons Image Via Wikipedia

It was a riveting story. Two older guys buy a broken-down horse, breed her with the cheapest horse they can find, and the offspring becomes a national hero. The horse that could finally put an end to horse racing’s 36 year wait for the next triple crown winner.

There’s much more to the story, but you probably know it already. The 77 year old trainer. The owners turning down millions for a partial interest in the horse, but that’s not the point of this post.

If this were a novel there are plenty of ways the story could go that would be satisfying, win, lose or draw. Endings that would cause readers to reach for the next book in the series, or another book the author has written.

Of course, the California Chrome story didn’t end the way most people wanted, and that’s where it gets instructive. If you write books for publication, you want a great plot, richly developed characters, exotic settings, and to take the reader into an exciting world. But then you’ve got to write the ending.

A great story with a poor ending becomes an okay story, not something a reader would recommend to a friend. That’s what happened to the California Chrome story over the weekend. So - what can we learn from this as writers?

1. Write a damn good ending. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it should be satisfying on some level. Endings are what drive next actions from readers. Are they going to click that link in the back of your e-book to buy the next in the series? Are they going to be so thrilled by your story they’re going to write a review? To research you as an author to see what else you’ve written?

Or - are they going to shrug, and move on to something else.

California Chrome losing the race wasn’t enough to make me shrug. I still enjoyed the story and wanted to know more. Until that lovable owner, Steve Coburn frowned into the camera and went off. Which leads to the second point.

2. Don’t bitch and moan. Everyone over ten years old knows that life isn’t fair. Complaining to close friends may be therapeutic, but when that complaining is transmitted via television, radio or social media, it’s annoying to most who see it.

Coburn RantHow many times have you seen an author use Facebook, or Twitter to complain about poor sales, or a lousy poor review? Not many, because most are professionals. But the ones who do really stand out. As a reader, I’m less interested in purchasing their work.

3. When the story’s finished, it’s finished. Chrome lost, and most were disappointed. But if it had ended there we’d still have a good feeling about the California Chrome story, and we’d want to read the next thing in the series. Yes, I’m completely torturing the metaphor, but we’d want to see the sequel at the Breeders Cup. Chrome and Tonalist, both well rested, going head to head. It would have been must-see television for the country.

What else have we learned from the California Chrome saga?


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