Conclusions and Associated Writing Woes

OK, so the last time I made a post here was like…Christmas, or something. I guess things really have gotten in the way. But hey, according to recent emails I’ve got, more people have started following this blog, and even fellow writers have started following me on Twitter. What are the odds? So, now I’ve got to appease them give those nice enough to take an interest in my poorly constructed blog a bit of context and a bit of news.

I’m in the final throes of the first draft of my novel, which, even though it means a lot of work in working out what I want to keep and what I want to change, is still a bit a milestone, and one I’m no doubt going to feel accomplished about when it comes. As for actually publishing the damn thing, that’s a whole different ball game, but one I’ll get to when it comes.

It’s convenient too that over the last few days I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my major script project for my university course. A feature-length (or slightly less) screenplay, the writing journey of which I do actually have to write an essay for as well. Do the examiners really want to know how near the end I actively started resenting the whole bloody story I’d been crafting for so long? Perhaps it would give me a higher mark, in which case, I’m all for it, because my script probably isn’t going to do very well…but how did it happen? How did such an idealized story of star-crossed love, existentialism and utilitarian ethics become a plotline that I just groan at and want to see out of my direct line of concern? I get the feeling it might have to do with how you get a conclusion to a story. And, given that I’m approaching the end to my novel, I think it’s an appropriate time to talk about how to conclude a story.

As if I know! Anyone who’s read or heard me read one of my short stories can attest that I actually need to mention when the conclusion has taken place because the sentences I choose that best rounds the story out aren’t always that obvious, and others think I could have ended it earlier. In all honesty, I doubt I’m the only person who has this problem, and actually, choosing a conclusion for a story is much easier than deciding exactly what you’re going to end on, which scene, which line, maybe even which characters. A weak or uncertain ending can leave an audience, who were otherwise very much invested in the characters and story arcs, feeling unfulfilled, and may retroactively put them off the entire thing. I may have spoken on this blog before about particularly endings that have felt weak in comparison to the rest of the product, but I can’t remember exactly. Feel free to search through for them yourselves – I’m not your slave, I’m not getting paid for this!

Which, given the sporadic nature of my posts, is hardly surprising.

And actually, if I were your slave, I wouldn’t be getting paid for it, so…

I find that the endings that satisfy me the most are the ones that draw reference to whatever theme the story was trying to get across, either through narration, or something the characters are doing or saying. This can often be done helpfully through an epilogue, like the one from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which talks about how, even though humanity’s future of being divided between the hopelessly naive Eloi and the cannibalistic but ultimately more intelligent Morlocks seems pretty grim, the essence of humanity, and the appreciation for things we hold dear are still there. Now, a lot of people might find such ending choices a little cheesy, and whilst I can definitely see that argument, it’s a far cry better, in my opinion, than ending a story that you’ve long been invested in abruptly stopping on a sentence that could easily be in the middle of a scene.

She let’s her head down and kisses the sand.

Those are the last words of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. For context, I’ll hopefully review that at some point in the future, but I remember feeling disappointed in the time, especially given what took place before this line. There are plenty of earlier places this book could have stopped, but instead we get this rather sporadic end-point, which in no way feels particularly narratologically significant. Apparently, ‘narratologically’ isn’t a word, but it should be, so there.

H.G. Wells? Kim Stanley Robinson? Am I becoming a science fiction buff? Well, I’ll have you know I’ve always been a science fiction buff, but for a while I was never able to find science fiction that accurately reflected my tastes. Science fiction, being as it is a genre of the future, or challenging established norms, should be postmodern by design. Instead, particularly in the field of space opera and military science fiction, we just get very modern settings and attitudes that happen to be in a setting that looks kind of different. The fact that Robinson in particular is very eager to show the social and personal affects of technological progress is what makes his science fiction a particular eye-opener for me. Again, more on that another time. I seem to be going off on a tangent here…

One way of avoiding the difficultly of ending a story is to leave a hook, a cliffhanger for a future installment, therefore avoiding the need to conclude everything in this one. Cliffhangers can be terribly effective, and, given the appropriate amount of build-up and investment, can drag you into the next installment like the gravity well of a neutron star, which works terribly well for TV writing if nothing else. Unfortunately, on the other end of the cliffhanger, you do have to resolve it in a fulfilling way, otherwise the unpleasable masses will get annoyed again. Apparently unpleasable isn’t a word either. This is getting quite upsetting.

As is perhaps appropriate for a post about the difficulty of conclusions, I’m going to conclude this post in a unsatisfying way. Basically, there’s no easy answer to endings, so just write what you want.

Oh, and I’m hoping to post more regularly from now on, but I absolutely cannot guarantee that will be the case, so…yeah.