Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Satisfaction Guaranteed

I'm going to talk about endings today, but first I want to apologize for whiffing my last posting date. Life just got the best of me there for a bit and I completely missed the boat.

No excuses. My bad.

The reason I want to talk about endings today is because I'm sneaking up on one in my work in progress, and there are a lot of little fiddly bits needing tied together. I took weaving in college, and I wish I could say it helped me even a teeny bit with plot threads, but it didn't. Not one snit.

Endings are difficult, and even more so because they are important. At least, I think they are. As a reader, an ending can make or break a book for me. A really good finish can save a lackluster novel, and a limp, soggy ending can kill a great read, and has many time over.

So what makes a good ending? Is it necessarily happy? Tragic? Full of last minute twists? Well, I'd say it could be any of those things, but it doesn't have to be. Happy, tragic, twisty or predictable all have to do with personal taste. It's hard, possibly impossible, to give advice about matters of taste.

The best kind of ending then is one that satisfies. Isn't that special? Satisfies what? Who? They say it all the time, "you need a satisfying ending." But, but...
I finally had someone say this in a way that made all the lights come on. No, you can't satisfy everyone all the time, but a satisfying ending isn't about pleasing taste. It's about satisfying the promises you made at the beginning of the book, and in fact, all the way through it.

Does the ending satisfy the beginning? Eureka. I can work with that.

The best way to see this in action is to read short stories. I swear, they have this nailed. Good short stories that is, not crappy ones. Probably a given there, huh? Anyway, a good short story has an ending like a punchline. POW. Everything comes together in one final, perfectly executed loop.

It's almost like solving a puzzle, or working out the answer to a particularly tricky riddle. Very, very satisfying. Even if you don't like what happens. There is still that huge sense of accomplishment, of finally seeing the big picture. When an ending can tie back to the beginning somehow, when it can ease the reader toward some revelation about the previous story, then we're talking about magic.

At least, I am. This kind of ending sticks with me. It keeps me thinking. Sure, you still need to tie up those loose ends, or most of them. Unless, of course, you set up a different kind of book, one where the reader would expect to be left guessing about a few things. And I'm not sure a nice, neat tied up ending is always satisfying.

In fact, taking that long, slow journey back to the Shire to show us how the story ends for each and every character can backfire on you. If the big finish was on page 280 and you're still tying up things on page 340, we need to talk. Read some short stories for awhile and find that POW ending.
I'm pretty sure there's a version that suits the novel.

In the meantime, I have some weaving to do. :)

~ Frances

1 comment:

  1. That's similar to my way of looking at it: I believed in the deserved ending. Depending on the promises I've made as a storyteller as well as what both the reader and the characters have been through, I try to arrive at an ending that is the right one for the story, deserved by all those involved (fictional or otherwise). It's rarely traditionally happy but I endeavor to make it satisfying.


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