Think about the most memorable books you have ever read. Did they end on a downbeat, or an upbeat? Or was it a mixture?
It has become fashionable to have books where everyone wallows in misery throughout, and then end up even deeper in it. I find little merit in such offerings. The excuse that they are ‘true to life’ doesn’t hold water as far as I’m concerned. Life is a mixture of all the extremes. Even people in the most abject circumstances have their moments of joy and relief. Should one ignore those?
For an example of one of the best ‘mixed’ endings I have ever come across, I take not one of the classics but Paul Gallico’s Jenny. A little boy is injured and in a coma, during which time he is a cat who meets another called Jenny and goes on adventures with her while she teaches him how to survive on the street. At the end his cat persona appears to have been killed in a fight, leaving Jenny alone. He comes to as a boy again, on the road to recovery, and in the bosom of a loving family. Contrary to what he was allowed before, he is given a kitten. He gropes for a name he knows is lurking in the back of his memory – but it is gone, so he names the kitten ‘Spot’ or ‘Smut’ or something. An unbelievably poignant moment.
Unfortunately, there is something in human nature which seems to demand a lot of suffering in our literary characters, and which is appealed to by unhappy and inconclusive stories. For that reason, I know I will never be seen as a great author. Where it is fashionable to wallow in misery, my characters mostly do their wallowing in fun, happiness and success.
In telling any story, it is the writer’s choice as to whether the ending leaves you on a high or in the depths. For example, one could carry on with Cinderella to where the Handsome Prince becomes a cheating wife-beater, and her ugly sisters start blackmailing her regarding an unfortunate liaison she had at one stage with the local sweep. Or you can take a biography and instead of ending it with the subject’s ungraceful descent into gibbering old age, stop the story at the height of the person’s romantic and personal success.
I have just read a wonderfully-written manuscript by someone who richly deserves to be published. After sweeping one along, though, the story ends (to my mind) neither on a shout of joy nor a scream of anguish, but on a bleat. I really felt let-down.
Maybe I’m simply not with it. Do you think I should quickly change my endings to bump off some or all of my characters in each?
© Colonialist June 2011 (Letterdash/WordPress)