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.