Friday, July 20, 2012

Sea Salt

I have a new conceptualization of how my stories should end. I used to view my story endings as opportunities to wrap up a series of events. In a sense, it was an "external" process: get my character down the tree, that sort of thing. But as my stories got more complicated, I found that this strategy wasn't working for me. My attempts to wrap up multiple story lines resulted in me feeling like I had to end my stories multiple times, and each of those endings diluted the impact of all of the others.

Now I'm seeing my endings as more "internal." They will be focused on the mental state and emotional state of a character, rather than the outcome of events. Moreoever, that ending snapshot of the final mental and emotional state needs to carry the resonance of all of the storylines I was developing with any sort of depth. The ending should touch on how the character has concluded on each of these storylines--not necessarily how she is going to act on them, but how she will internally process them. She could be obsessed with some elements, she could freely discard some elements, but I feel like a reader should feel that emotional response accompanied by some sense of forward projection. If a character is changing in some specific way throughout the story, then the ending should handle how that change finishes and reaches some sort of equilibrium, even if the equilibrium is oscillating somehow.

A long time ago, some writing teacher used a wave as a metaphor for an ending. I don't remember much more than that, but now the wave comes in handy for me again. I imagine a character walking out of the ocean, and all of that character's baggage from the story is the ocean itself. A wave builds behind the character--this is the shape of the journey. Then, in the end, the character can stop moving, but the wave will continue and crash past the character and spread along the sand. The water will be blocked by where the character is standing, but the rest of the water will move forward and spread and interact with the sand and sink into the earth.

What's Peanut eating? Rotisserie chicken. 


  1. "I feel like a reader should feel that emotional response accompanied by some sense of forward projection"

    That's exactly what I think about endings, right there. Except that you've expressed it more precisely and succinctly.

    Or most endings, at least. I acknowledge that there are other types of endings that may prioritize other narrative elements (say, theme), and so are keyed to those elements rather than character arc. But I believe most successful endings are as you've described. At least, the ones that work best for me.

  2. Hi Jabez! It only took me twelve years to be able to get this idea semi-clear in my head. And I agree with you that this is only one type of ending. I've been focusing on my current WIP, and this type of ending seems appropriate for that book.

  3. Okay, that metaphor for an ending is brilliant. Some of my books end that way, and some do not. I think Breakaway ends that way, and that is why a lot of readers have issues with it "suddenly ending" and not wrapping everything up. But those are the kinds of endings I love best. Curse is a bit different. It neatly ties a lot of things up and is more traditional. I like writing both, honestly, but I really just do what works for the story I'm telling.

  4. Hi Michelle! I felt like your first version of Cinders ended this way too, and I liked it. But I do also like some neater endings. I just watched the movie Juno again this weekend, and I really like how that movie wraps everything up.

  5. Every time you or Scott post about endings, I obsess about my own novel's ending!

    One of the best personalized rejecions I got on a short story concluded by saying that the editor felt I'd "cheated" by not spelling out What Happened. That he was so invested to that point and could not believe I didn't come out and say it. But what was important to me in that story was the change in the character. I felt like it was obvious what he would do, and that watching him do it was less important than the fact that he was now capable of doing it. (The idea of watching him do it actually bored me a bit.) But apparently I didn't execute it very well. :)

    I was blown away by the ending of yours that I just read, so I think you are doing something right.

    Does Peanut ever go vegetarian?

  6. Jennifer...Jennifer! Hi Jennifer. :) I just noticed that.

    For me, Scott is one of the best story enders I know. I almost always feel like my own endings are problematic. As for yours, I will know soon enough if I'm patient!

    Peanut has yet to have a full vegetarian day, unfortunately. Do you know if vegetarian dog diets work? But I do give him veg snacks. Today he got some frozen strawberries. That distracted him for a good bit.

    1. I love that you feed your dog real food. All of our friends look at us like we are CRAZY for doing so.

      I think I've read that an all vegetarian dog diet isn't great for dogs. We feed our dog regular dog food, but he eats plenty of vegetarian food of ours. Someone came with a meat sub once and gave some to him, and some seditious part of me suspected it was his best day ever.

      And yes. Jennifer. Craziness! :)

  7. "that ending snapshot of the final mental and emotional state needs to carry the resonance of all of the storylines I was developing with any sort of depth"

    True that, Mr Malasarn! And the corollary is also true: All of the storylines you develop with any sort of depth need to carry the resonance of the final and emotional state.

    I am not sure what you'll think of the ending to "Go Home, Miss America." Mighty Reader declares it fine. I declare it Chekhovian. You'll get to make your own declaration in some months. I think I've finally written a real book with this one.

    The wave image is very good. And who knew ja zobair was a Jennifer?