Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

A Rant: Tying Up Loose Ends

In Writing on September 3, 2012 at 9:09 am

Picture from the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. A place you can imagine all kinds of endings.

Today I don’t have any blithe management principles to spout.  In fact, what I am about to do probably goes against several of the hyper-positive management principles that I normally hold so dear.  But, dear reader, I find myself at a near breaking point and I simply have to get something off my chest before I explode or chuck my kindle out the window.  The fact is that I simply hate abrupt endings.  Hate them.

Yes, I said it.  I understand that sometimes abrupt endings can be a useful literary motif and that many an accomplished author has applied an abrupt ending in pursuit of a greater literary motive.  The abrupt ending, like so many other tricks in the writing bag, should be a selectively used tool, and one that is used for a deliberate effect.  All too often, it seems that authors find themselves at the end of a deadline or at the end of their imagination and, failing to push themselves, take the easy out of the abrupt ending.

Let me think of a few examples that recently stand out in my mind.  Let’s start with Ana Castillo’s The Guardians, which I just recently read.  It took me a bit to get into the plot, but eventually the character development grew richer and I became engrossed in the lives of the characters.  Just as the story seemed to be actually getting interesting, however, the author ends the novel extremely abruptly, and without completely spoiling the plot, I’ll suffice it to say that at least one major character dies with little warning, and as a result, the real purpose or meaning of the story is lost in the abrupt ending.  Ugh.  It frustrates me to no end when I invest in a novel and then, just as it finally seems to be getting interesting, it ends without so much as a proper goodbye.

Another example is Mockingjay, the third Hunger Games book.  Yes, I just went there.  I know it’s no literary masterpiece, but the fact is that I did read the Hunger Games, like so many other people around the world.  And while the first two books were interesting and reasonable vacation reads, the third book was a completely different beast.  It’s hard to say what was going through Suzanne Collin’s mind when she wrote the third book.  Was it a looming deadline?  A screaming publisher?  Demands for money, for book tours, for a movie script?  Who knows.  What I do know, as a reader, is this: it seems a complete waste to spend three books building up to a decent tale of adventure and rebellion, only to suddenly and abruptly end the entire enterprise in a matter of 20 pages.  Unsatisfying, to say the least.  How is it that something that took hundreds of pages to build can be unraveled in a matter of moments, in a manner that basically detracts from the better moments of the other two books?  Furthermore, I know that I don’t stand alone here.  Having spoken with other readers, I’ve confirmed my suspicions: the ending really is rushed.  The central themes are never really resolved.  And again, for the sake of trying to add some sense of finality, the author takes the easy route and starts killing off characters at a rapid pace.

So where is this all going?  First, I just needed to get that off my chest.  But more importantly, as a growing writer, I need to become a better student of the body of literature that already exists.  To quote a pretty old book, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”  As I continue to dive deeper into my own creative process, I need to carefully pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, and this also means giving up the “easy” out (I’m looking at you, abrupt endings) when something doesn’t want to wrap itself up neatly.

As readers and writers, we all crave, maybe even need, resolution.  At times denying the reader this resolution can prove to be a powerful tool.  But doing so gratuitously risks destroying the entire piece of work and alienating readers who have invested time and emotion into getting to know your characters.  Perhaps this is the new golden rule of writing: do unto your readers as you would have done unto yourself.