Endings are my biggest problem. This might be directly related to my failure to finish nearly anything I start. Still. Inspired by the onion, it’s time to tackle my biggest weakness.
I’m thinking of sending a story into the Absent Willow Review’s short story contest, and the one I have in mind got a lot of complaints about the ending. In fact, people complain about my endings for just about everything I write.
Maybe they sense that once I’ve created a world and a situation, I’m pretty much out of steam.
How does one conclude stories? What special knowledge am I missing that would help me finish things with a satisfying bang?
Since all knowledge in the known universe is on the web, I went surfing for help.
First stop : Tvtropes.org. I love this site. It’s a wiki format site that catalogs those things you see over and over and over again in story telling. Yup : there’s a whole section devoted to endings. But, as usual, while I find it entertaining to read through the tropes, I don’t see anything that will help. I’m not planning on adding on an apocalypse or collapsing building or happily-ever-after-with-babies to my story. Nothing seems to apply.
Next : other blogs. Here’s the most useful thought I’ve seen on the topic.
“(The)story must end at the right point – at the moment of change. In a short story, change must happen, either subtly or obviously. The protagonist must undergo some sort of change.”
Now that is helpful. In my story Trees, for instance, my protagonist doesn’t change. The world around her changes, but she doesn’t. So maybe she needs change.
But what kind?
Last stop : Dramatica.com.
Now look. I don’t know why this is true, but it seems to me that the (great!) ideas on dramatic.com are obscured in unnecessarily specialized terminology. But if you sort through all that, there are some really great thoughts about theme, structure, and character in there.
My favorite idea that I’ve gotten from Dramatica.com is the idea of “story mind,” the idea that a good story takes a situation and pursues it from all the logical angles. I.e. if the situation is “Person is bullied at school,” there should be different characters and situations which all show different possible responses or outcomes to this situation.
I like this idea.
Do I do this in Trees? In Trees, the situation is that Deb wakes up in a parallel universe. She doesn’t know this, and things are so close to her old world that she doesn’t guess it, either. But all these little changes in her world are driving her mad (i.e. no one knows the word “tree” and there’s a stranger who claims he’s her brother).
Ok what are all the possible ways that she could she respond? She could assume – or others around her could assume – that she’s gone nuts and send her to a therapist. That’s something to add in.
Erm – she could try mystical and/or religious means to change things back
She could just ruthlessly adapt, and pretend she remembers her brother and her middle name and deal with it.
She could try to force the world back into her perception of it – i.e. change her middle name back to Virginia, keep trying to hunt down Beth, refuse to have anything to do with Jason or to speak to him or anything
Or she could try to connect to the other people who also woke up in a parallel world and see if any of them have ideas for how to get back.
So hey – look – there ARE a lot of different approaches she can take to make change happen.
And I think I may end up with a better story out of it in the end.
So for me, these 2 ideas are helping : 1) Story Mind and 2) making things change in the story. Hopefully I’ll be able to rewrite this and finally achieve that satisfying ending that most of my stories seem to be lacking.
Next Up : Fan Fiction oh my!