The Under Ground Writing Project

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The End

Posted by Jenny Maloney on August 20, 2012 at 9:00 AM

      In real life, endings are sad.


My grandmother died in March, on her birthday. She was eighty-four years old.


At her memorial service, presenters tried to illustrate that she lived a full life. And she did. She married a man she loved, who loved her back. She had four kids, seven grandkids, and five great grandkids. She worked a full career. She volunteered. Her life was a journey and she travelled it well.


Which is why it feels so terrible to realize her journey is over. There's always a sense of what-happens-next when you're alive. So once a life is over, there's a feeling of incompletion.


And I don't know about you, but I'm always angry when someone I love is gone. I get mad that there's always one more thing they wanted to do. One more thing they could have done.


When Grandma turned eighty I said it was time to see what eight candles looked like on a birthday cake. Let me tell you, it's bright. And hot. Like a mini-sun. You have to light the candles fast or you have a wax-icing cake on your hands.


Grandma died early in the morning on her eighty-fourth birthday. She should have seen four more candles. But she didn't make it.


There's always one more thing to do.


That's life. And that's how it goes.


Fiction works differently. As angry as I get with life endings, I am disappointed with the lack of an ending in a story. Stories, in my opinion, serve a unique purpose in our lives. I believe they provide significance and a resolution that we so rarely get in real life.


One of the most famous endings in literature - and I'm pretty sure I'm not spoiling anything - is the end of Gone with the Wind. Scarlett, who has finally figured out that Ashley Wilkes is not the man for her, pleads with Rhett Butler to stay. Rhett, after facing the death of his daughter and after endless rejections from his wife, says in response to her impassioned plea: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." And off he goes.


Quite frankly, my dears, I've read that book and I think the ending is spot-on. The clamors and pleadings for a sequel were studiously ignored by Margaret Mitchell, who only completed that one book. The problem with trying to continue Gone with the Wind is that these characters have gone through the most strenuous and troublesome period of their lives. Rhett is broken. Scarlett will never be hungry again. By just continuing along, the significance of those moments is ruined.


There's a reason we remember "I don't give a damn": Because it's important. It's over.


I've found the lack of endings in multiple fantasy series to be troublesome for a similar reason - right now I have no idea what the significant moments are. Sure, George RR Martin kills main characters...but then he continues on and I'm not sure who the main characters are anymore. He could kill everyone he started with and I won't know it's important until I have some kind of end.


Don't go on forever. Help the reader realize what's important.


And now, because I've gone on a somewhat depressing tangent...I give you "Write Like the Wind George RR Martin" to express my thoughts in a more amusing fashion:


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Categories: Endings, George RR Martin

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Reply John Ridge
6:17 PM on August 22, 2012 
I don't recall the name of the author, or the book, but I heard a story that long ago, a writer died writing her book with many more chapters left to be written. Instead of getting someone else to finish it, the editor simple added a note that said, "Sorry folks, that's all she wrote." Don't know if it's true or not, but at least that's different from having your pinch writer take the idea and run with it for another three books.
Reply Jenny Maloney
6:55 PM on August 23, 2012 
I'm just gonna end all the stuff I can't figure out like that: "Sorry folks, that's all she wrote." Cliffhangers too. Every time.

P.S. I saw this comment initially in my email view and it read: "I don't recall the name of the author, or the book, but I heard a story that long ago, a writer died writing her book with many more chapters left to be wri - " I though it was you just being sarcastic.
Reply Oliver
7:42 PM on August 24, 2012 
I once thought John was sarcastic. I turned out to be right.

Way to NOT provide a surprise ending! Sheesh.

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