On Endings

I have been working on my novel for a little over 2 years. Those of you who have been working on your novels longer than I, may scoff. After all, the average novel is said to take nearly 5 years, while some authors, like Susanna Clark, someone I hold the utmost admiration for, took 10 to complete her book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, though in fairness that book is over 1,000 pages long.

What I’ve been struggling with over the last couple weeks is an ending. Sure, you can look up the prescribed rules of how novels should end–Writer’s Digest actually has a step by step guide, which probably isn’t horrible advice for a linear novel. But my novel isn’t linear–indeed, I’m unsure if it will ever qualify as a novel in general, as it’s a collection of novellas all packed together, sharing themes, ideas, timeline, and the references to some characters. Between each story is a bridge that links them all together. There is a character within the bridges that has his own arc. So finishing off his story is somewhat difficult. It’s quite Kafka-esk, theater of the absurd, kind of stuff.

So here are the elements of an ending I need to remember.

1: Don’t introduce anything new.

Don’t introduce a new theme, new characters, or a secret about one of the main characters unless it’s been hinted at already. Everything in the ending must have been seen or referenced earlier in the book.

2: Hero as catalyst.

The protagonist must be the catalyst for the change. Or, I believe, at the very least, react accordingly to whatever has happened. This could mean taking initiative. Then coming to a larger realization concerning the nature of his/her world. This can also be seen as the hero, or protagonist, growing internally.

3: Change for the better:

I don’t agree with this completely. I don’t like fairy tale endings. I don’t like Disney characters who are better at the end of the story for whatever reason. A story about a man who is through with his term of service in the army isn’t going to renew his contact after nearly being killed a bunch. . . Behind Enemy Lines. That was a poor attempt to show how cool the army is.

There does need to be change, but it doesn’t always need to be an end, to be an ending. Instead, I think, to show something has changed and now the character will push off from here into new territory, is enough. Stories only end when someone dies–and even then their story continued in the form of the people who loved them or were effected by them during their life. So I have a difficult time putting any kind of absolute on an ending. I think for an ending to work something needs to have irrevocably change for the characters at hand. If this is established, and then a new ground state acquired the story can end and the reader will fill in the blanks of what happened next. These open ended endings are always my favorite. They are the kind that spark conversation among friends and reading groups. They are ambiguous to the point where people will agree to disagree how the protagonist came it and where they are going. Think Birdman! Freaking love that movie.

That’s enough for now. Until next week, keep writing. I know I will. Would love other peoples ideas on endings if you have time to start a little discussion.

A.

2/13/15

First he needed to make change. He stepped into J.J.’s, the small convenience store on Holly, and feeling as though he could buy the whole shop picked out a wrapped sandwich and a soda, Sprite. He paid $6.99 before leaving. Then his eyes fell on the cigarettes behind the guy at the counter.

“Actually, I’ll take a American Spirit, also,” said Doug.

He paid a total of $10.26 for them and the guy handed Doug his change. It looked a lot smaller on this side of $40 dollars. Doug took a book of the complementary matches before leaving.

Outside the rain was still coming down, but with little conviction. As though it didn’t have the heart to touch the ground. The moisture swirled in the air, a misty that clung to anything it could other than the pavement. Doug unwrapped his cigarettes, fitted one between his lips, and struck a match. It had been a long time since he’d had a smoke. He didn’t have the money often, so when he inhaled his lungs tightened and constricted as though he’d not taken a breath at all. He coughed quietly, not wanting the man passing to see him coughing over a cigarette. The second drag was easier. And it was all better from there.

After he finished his smoke he walked down Holly and turned down cornwall, his garbage bag bumping him in the legs as he walked. The laundromat was empty. Nobody was there, which was strange for a Sunday, Doug supposed. But it worked well for him. He loaded his clothes into a washer, but pulled his shorts free of the pile. He stood at the back of the laundromat, in the corner, partially shielding himself from the window and door and stripped off the pants and tattered underwear he was wearing, then slipped the shorts on. He hadn’t worn the shorts for ages, he might washed them since he’d worn them last and he wanted to have everything he was wearing cleaned as well. The shirt and sweater he had on–exceptions–other things needed to be washed more.

He paid $2 for a box of detergent from the vending machine, tossed it in the washer unceremoniously. Then he put $3 dollars into the slot, which gobbled it up. He set it to hot/warm cycle, then sat down in one of the chairs near the front window, cracked his Sprite open and unwrapped his sandwich. It was dry, and so he had to take a sip of soda after each bite. The meat didn’t taste real, it was too light on the mayonnaise, and there was no mustard on it at all. The lettuce was wilted. Still, he ate the whole thing because he was hungry, and drank all the Sprite. He threw his garbage away.

The timer on his wash was–maybe–a quarter of the way done. Doug wadded up his plastic bag and stuck it in his pocket. It made an awkward bulge there. He left the laundromat and walked across the street. The rain had intensified now and in his shorts and wool sweater he felt ridiculous. On the other side of the street was the used bookstore, Craig’s. Doug had tried to go to Craig’s before, but they were inexplicable open on Sundays but not on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays. This did not strike Doug as a sustainable business model.

 

1/29/15

If clouds could be my guide to you

I’d not sit by and watch

If I could pull the sun right through

I’d shine it in the eyes.

 

But if this comes first

This gentle rock of mine

And in no place can I see the end

Why, to hand it, set it, within your palm

Will make it gleam as it

Had not done before.

 

If you want prose poetry

I’m not sure where to go.

I’ll point back at those clouds and tell you so.

 

Why not just write and not slow down?

Why not just invite me in

there’s no need for secrecy here.

We all have pasts we leave behind.