Thursday, February 21, 2013

And in the end . . . I still can't write a decent ending

I've been thinking a lot about endings after this whole Downton Abbey boondoggle.  (Let it go, Amy.  Shhhh, baby.  It'll be okay.)  Yes, the ending of Matthew and the third season set off mean, angry firecrackers in my brain, but surprise, that wasn't the first time I reacted passionately to an ending.

  • 1984 (the novel, not the film) - Finished it on the yellow shag carpeting of my high school bedroom and threw the book across the room, hitting the picture of Bob Geldolf on my closet door.  My husband looked incredulous when I told him this.  'What?  You thought it was going to be a happy ending?'  No.  Maybe.  Shut up.  My first realization that I was an idealist and snark is just a front for a very sensitive heart.
  • The Piano - Okay, the ending is left up to viewer interpretation.  Did she die or didn't she?  Two endings.  Which is real?  No matter, I wept like a baby for two hours afterwards, freaking out my then-boyfriend until he finally ignored me and went to sleep.  Fun side note: this movie affected me so profoundly I tried to write my first Master's thesis on it (and a slew of other films/novels), but it became too personal, so I dropped out of the program for 5 years.  Did I mention how sensitive I am?
  • Short Cuts - I love Robert Altman movies, especially with big ensemble casts, especially Edwardian dramas like Gosford Park (and it all comes back to Downton Abbey), but Short Cuts was so cynical I thought I was going to charge the screen back in 1993.  Okay, I get it, it's an homage to Raymond Chandler, as well as an adaptation of his stories.  Yep, Chandler was a twisted old fart.  I like twisted, I do.  I take my kids to the Zombie Walk every year and my husband and I like to quote the David Sedaris essay about the unflushable turd on a regular basis; however, I resist hopelessness and this film, dear readers, was hopeless.  There wasn't one redeemable character, not one.  Well, maybe Ann Archer, but this film obviously didn't do anything for her career.  The ending was so bleak, so mean-spirited and hostile, I really needed a group hug afterwards.
  • Six Feet Under - Here's a case where I actually loved the sad ending.  If you haven't watched the series, I don't want to spoil it for you, but I'm going to if you keep reading.  That said, it's still worth watching up to the end.  I appreciate shows that end tongue-in-cheek, a la Newhart (one of the best endings EVER!) and not so much St. Elsewhere, and more recently 30 RockSix Feet Under wasn't so much tongue-in-cheek as it was complete.  The show was about death so no big surprise that the main character dies in the last episode.  Alan Ball could've left it there and really, we all expected it so it would've been fine.  What Ball did was take it 20 steps further and show every character's demise.  Every.  Single.  Character.  Whether it was violent or sudden or slow and of natural causes, we saw every death.  And some were even funny (Brenda's in particular, dying of boredom listening to her insane brother Billy ramble on).  All set against this Sia song that quite frankly stole my breath away.  As soon as the scene ended and the credits rolled, along with the tears rolling down my cheek, I believe I said something like this: "AGAIN!"  And I watched it all over again.  It was truly poetic and satisfying.

photo credit: http://www.aoltv.com/2005/08/22/six-feet-under-ten-fisher-family-future-details-you-didnt-see/
I've also been thinking about endings because it is the one thing I struggle with the most in my own writing.  Maybe you've noticed in my posts even.  I tend to end with a short jab or snarky remark.  It's a cop-out for a thoughtful ending and you, dear readers, deserve better than that!  My mentor commented on an essay I recently wrote and said, basically, it's ready to send out after you look at the ending.  I questioned her on this:  "What does the ending need?"  She couldn't tell me, but just said it was missing something.  And it is.  There is a lot of humor and gravitas in the essay, but then I slide into the final words with a question mark that denotes COP OUT.  I may as well be Julian Fellowes because I can't seem to conclude with a thoughtful, well-planned paragraph, something that isn't cloying or redundant, but provocative and satisfying.  Like the ending of Six Feet Under.  Something poetic.  Something like what The Beatles did at the end of Abbey Road.  "And in the end . . . the love you take is equal to the love you make."  Or something like that.  Apparently, McCartney was going for a Shakespearean couplet.  The meter is off, but I appreciate the concept.

When I teach my first year college students, I am honest with them as they complain about their concluding statements:  I hate writing them too, it's truly the hardest part of the paper.


22 comments:

  1. Same problem all the time. Ending short stories is friggin' ridiculous. And I avoid it all the time. I have a short story that is 30 pages long because I keep trying to end it and to avoid ending it I just keep writing. On my way to a novel, you say? Hardly. My character has been in the car, in park I might add) for 20 pages now. Alas.

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    1. Ooh, that's rough. I just avoid the damn things. I have at least 5, maybe 10, essays waiting to have their stupid endings revised. So I write blog posts and troll Facebook instead. I need a job.

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  2. You and me both, Amy. I'm almost never satisfied with my endings.

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    1. I think it's a pretty common malady, Kathy.

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  3. Oh, I loved the last episode of Six Feet Under too! So creative, funny, touching and appropriate. Funny, I don't analyze my writing as much as I probably should. Endings just happen, most of the time, in a natural flow in my brain.

    I liked how you are so passionate about the ending of things. I've never thrown a book at my door, but have screamed, "What? No, that can't end like that!" at tons of movies and then told the screen (if it were possible for a screen to listen) that they'd better do a sequel.

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    1. Thanks, Cindy. I think my reaction is borderline neurotic.

      What is your blog address, by the way?

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  4. Make sensitivity a strength. Look at it as the reason you know things and see things others don't. In fact, congratulations on being sensitive.

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    1. Thanks for that. I rarely feel strongly sensitive, but I will give that a whirl.

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  5. I am a sucker for a book (or movie) whose ending makes me sigh-- not necessarily with an over-sentimental or moral ending, but one that let's me feel full, like after a good meal. The worse are books written with sequels in mind that just leave too many open ends. Those drive me nuts.

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    1. See, I knew you'd get it, Julie. Now, how do you write a satisfying ending? Inquiring writers want to know!

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  6. I had a similar reaction to 1984, but mostly because it was telling the truth. Kind of ironic you hit Sir Bob Geldof's pic with the book given his own revolutions have been somewhat overcome by his own buying in! Here is an analysis of the 1984 ending that is truthful and maddening.

    http://voices.yahoo.com/an-analysis-george-orwells-depressing-ending-in-8664859.html?cat=38

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    1. Thanks for the link, Jeff. I'm not saying that the ending of 1984 wasn't brilliant. It just deflated my sails. A lot. I appreciate what Orwell did. I appreciate an ending that has purpose, but I prefer an ending (even a sad ending) with not only purpose but some hope. Call me romantic. Then again, one of my favorite books of all time is The Awakening and there is little hope in that conclusion.

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    2. I completely understand. One of my favorite cinematic endings was cheesy to the nth degree, but it plays in my head every time some injustice is playing out around me.

      http://youtu.be/LrutTKioPF4

      Last scene of Dead Poet's Society

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  7. I had a similar reaction to 1984. I find it ironic you hit Sir Bob Geldof's pic since his own revolutions have been somewhat diminished by his buying in! Here is a link to one of many analysis floating out there about the sucker punch we knew was coming from Orwell.

    http://voices.yahoo.com/an-analysis-george-orwells-depressing-ending-in-8664859.html?cat=38

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  8. I remember when I wrote Love-in-Idleness and was so proud of my ending. I loved and adored those last few chapters. They just seemed so finished. Then, my coach pointed out that the main character didn't say the last line of the book. Not only did I not know this was a rule, but it changed the whole rhythm of that final conversation. I was devastated. Now I can't remember if I changed it or just decided to be a rebel. I'll have to read it again.

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  9. I remember when I wrote Love-in-Idleness and was so proud of my ending. I loved and adored those last few chapters. They just seemed so finished. Then, my coach pointed out that the main character didn't say the last line of the book. Not only did I not know this was a rule, but it changed the whole rhythm of that final conversation. I was devastated. Now I can't remember if I changed it or just decided to be a rebel. I'll have to read it again.

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    1. I've never heard of that rule. I also don't abide by many rules in regards to writing.

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  10. my knowledge of writing wouldn't fill a hamster's bum hole. (sorry fat olivia). but i do read a lot and i think the best ending are the ones that are very lightly coloured in. i like the middle or the meat of the story to be the authors job. to set the stage to bring us along but i like the ending to a bit ambiguous. in some ways i think the ending belongs to the reader...

    now stop thinking about downton. watch call the midwives or the paradise. xx

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    1. I like the idea of the reader contributing to the overall meaning of the text. That's called Reader Response Theory and I'm a proponent.

      You're the second person to recommend Call The Midwives. Yes, ma'am.

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  11. I am always torn when reading books with less-than-happy endings. I WANT/NEED the happy ending, the hope...but I cannot stand a cop-out, unrealistic ending. Wuthering Heights and The Scarlet Letter were the two I threw over and over again. The characters were friggin' idiots and every step they took led the the realistic endings, but they should have been smarter and ended HAPPY! BLAH! *deep breath*
    And ya know what? I can never figure out how to end stuff either! Maybe we, as people/writers, are terrified of endings becasue we just want the story to go on and on and on...

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    1. Good point, Chris. Maybe so. Sometimes I just feel too imbedded in the details of the story to understand how, structurally, to come to a close. I'm not writing fiction, so I actually KNOW how the story ends. But telling what happened and writing something interesting are two different things.

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