The crisp brisk weather I've been dreaming of has finally made it to our little town. I spent part of this weekend folding my summer clothes into bins and bringing out my fleece and wool. Goodbye to all the lovely things of summer and hello to the even lovelier things of fall: fondue (cute husband and I made it from scratch for the first time this weekend from this great cookbook we purchased Friday evening--yes, we spend Friday nights in bookstores), chili (a Halloween night tradition passed down by my mom), candles a-burning, a shiver in your bones and sweaters stacked high. And Christmastime is at last on the horizon!
The end of one season and the beginning of the next has me thinking about story endings. It's always a challenge trying to wrap things up--fold things up neatly into a bin like out-of-season clothes--and leave your reader satisfied and your characters somehow different than when you found them. And if you leave them the same, you better have a good reason for leaving them that way. I've yet to meet a fellow writer who loves to write endings or even believes that his/her endings are good. There's always pressure because we're led to believe that what our readers want is a twist of some kind, a bang, not a whimper. And if we want it to end on a whimper, it better be a subtly bang-ful whimper. Our writing instructors, on the other hand, want evidence that we're leaving things in some organic way--that is to say, we leave our characters doing the thing that they could or should be doing, so that the genius of it lies in its naturalism. And the writers themselves, well we just want to feel like we made some kind of complete circle, even if it's shaped like a square--like we made our point, said our peace, left our readers wiser to things.
All of this is impossible.
Half the time my endings are just clever turns of phrase or shrouded in ambiguity that even I don't understand. I've left characters in deep depressions with no hope of climbing out, I've left a character in the middle of a parking lot.
Like I've said before, we always want to capture truth and real life, and it's at the ending point that this becomes more important, and thus more difficult. The only true ending in real life is death--only then do we lose all hope of ever repairing a relationship, finding what we were really looking for, etc. But even as I write those words I don't know if it's actually true: to be sure we all know of relationships that no matter how much we might hope they will be repaired, frankly never will be--the hurt or misunderstanding just goes too deep. We know there are those who'll always just be looking and hoping and never doing, and dreams that will be left unfulfilled. I guess this is where good writing comes in. It's important to tell the story of the man whose wildest dreams don't come true because maybe despite that, he's okay, he finds happiness, he accepts his fate and his sadness is nagging but minimal in comparison to the rest of the things in his life. I think writing is about determining degrees: trying to describe a particular kind of pain or a particular kind of happiness. Telling the stories of characters whose lives are mix of both sadness and happiness. And when you think about it, that's true life for all of us.
With these thoughts in mind, when I am faced with writing an ending, my heart racing with fear as I get closer and closer to having to begin my final paragraph, I try to think of the ending as night time. My character is, figuratively, just going to sleep after a long day, and he might fall asleep worried or sad or hopeful, and he has no idea what's coming tomorrow, but there's value in describing what he's feeling that night after a long day, or a long few months, or a terrible argument. If I can capture his true feelings at that moment, that's a truer depiction of reality than some long explanation of what might happen next.