I just read a good ending, in Jerome Charyn's The Seventh Babe, and so it got me thinking about the subject. As a writer, this is a particularly compelling subject. It's about as important as the name of the story, the names of the characters.
The way I ended The Cloak of Shrouded Men, for instance, was crucial to the whole story. When I originally wrote this one, it was during the course of three successive NaNoWriMos, so it's perhaps more accurate to say that I wrote three endings. The first, after "Colinaude, the Angry Avenger," came about because I realized the main character was headed in a dark direction. He kills a man. Considering the main character is a superhero, this is a fairly significant event for him. The second, after "Repose of the Eidolon," was less of an ending because by that point I knew I was going to be writing the character again. That ending was more of a beginning, as the character dons his superhero costume again for the first time since the end of "Angry Avenger." The whole of the third, "Cotton's War," is one long ending. Actually, it takes place after the ending, the climactic fight the character must experience in order to complete his experiences in the story. The fight apparently leaves him at death's door, only for an eleventh hour reveal that he's switched places with someone else, and that he's been comfortably observing the results of his response to killing a man from 'Angry Avenger." His morality has flipped. He has decided that the only way to respond to a world that no longer makes sense to him is to reshape the landscape. It is a little like my version of Watchmen in that sense, except there's no belief that he has won a war so much as completed, well, a story.
That was my first attempt at concluding a novel. The next one, Pale Moonlight, was a little trickier. The whole story became a study about ideas. Everything about it is less a traditional story and more a confrontation with 20th century psychology in the wake of some of the greatest horrors history has ever seen. It's what happens when the climactic battle becomes more about one side walking away. Who does that? So the character who is supposed to walk away dies instead. Of the three protagonists who confront the villain, one of them symbolizes the effort to understand evil, another the effort to reject, and the third the effort to confront it directly, which is to say contradict it. This is what a lot of people have been trying to argue recently, that instead of picking a fight you pacify the enemy. Except I'm ambivalent as to how easy that really is. So if I'm to write a story about it, I write about what I imagine has to happen in order for it to work. It's such a convoluted story, I'm sure I won't have any readers for it basically ever. I guess that's why it had absolutely no traction with publishers.
So I went in a different direction with the next novel, which I'm seriously considering self-publishing this year. I've previously referred to it as Minor Contracts and its original title, Ecce Homo, but it's now going by Holy Men. This is the first time I've written a long-form story without having some kind of climactic fight at the end. Like Pale Moonlight, it's a story of ideas, a much more direct grappling with my religious beliefs. I knew exactly how this one would end from the moment I started writing it, which was why I named it Ecce Homo originally, Latin for "Behold the man!," which is what Pontius Pilate utters to the crowd after having Jesus scourged. Except the man in my story isn't Jesus, but Adam, who is pleading with God to give his son Cain a second chance. Really??? It's a story that needs to be read to be understood, and this is something I knew from the moment I started writing it, so it's actually one of my clearer narratives. Swear to god!
From there, I wrote The Whole Bloody Affair, which was my version of a young adult novel, following the adventures of warrior orphan Yoshimi. Since the whole premise of this one involved fighting, I knew the climax definitely involved a fight. And so I peppered the book with a lot of short fights. It was originally my idea to have the climax feature another one, because I don't choreograph very well. I have to think a lot about it. It's the whole reason the superhero in Cloak of Shrouded Men does very little actual fighting. So I end up thinking of such moments more as set pieces, the way movies center a lot of their stories around specific moments, usually action scenes.
That's what happens in Seven Thunders, which is the first book I think other people might actually want to read. I've been foolish enough recently to send it to a publisher. It's the linchpin to my whole Space Corps saga. Whatever else I write, this is still what I think will be my legacy. It took me fifteen years and three prior manuscripts to even attempt writing Seven Thunders. And it was the same movie that ended up informing the fighting in Whole Bloody Affair that ultimately gave me the shape of it, including the ending. I'm talking about Warrior, the best MMA movie that will ever be made. It's the story of two brothers and their father, all of them estranged, all of whom converge back into each other's lives thanks to a tournament. The brothers end up meeting in the finals. It's seriously one of the best movies I've ever seen. Seven Thunders is also a story about brothers. I knew that whatever else I did in the story, I needed the ending to ring as true emotionally for me as Warrior's did. I'd dreamed about this ending for so long. Previously it played out a little like the lightsaber duels of the Star Wars prequels.
Endings aren't always my strong suit. Half the reason I spent a few years doing micro fiction was so that I had to tackle endings on a regular basis, the beginning so close to the ending that there could be no mistake as to how one met the other. As a reader, I've developed an instinct for how a story's shape looks. I happen to be partial to stories that end well, not just begin well. I hear all this stuff about how a story has to begin well, but that's perhaps the least important part of a story. I've read plenty of bad beginnings that quickly turn into excellent middles. But how many excellent endings?
Sometimes, when I want to end a story without having really finished writing it, I simply conclude with the overall effect the events of the story have ended up having. That's what I did with "Lost Convoy" from the Monorama collection. Last summer my laptop died on me. It ate the ending of Seven Thunders. Not the ending, but the coda. With that one, it was as important to do a proper ending as explain what happened after it. I guess bringing the lessons of Cloak of Shrouded Men and later efforts full circle. Luckily my sister helped the computer regurgitate the coda.
With the manuscript I've recently completed, In the Land of Pangaea, there are three separate stories that are nonetheless interrelated, and so once more I needed a coda to bring it all together satisfactorily. I've also been working on Zooropa all year, which is another way I've been meditating on endings recently. Zooropa is the title I've given a series of stories I've been working on for about as long as Space Corps. It encompasses "Leopold's Concentration" and several other stories from Monorama, and several that aren't in it. When I tackled "Eponymous Monk," a serialized quasi-cartoon strip I recently completed over at Scouring Monk, I knew I still wasn't completing that story. So when it came to thinking up a theme for this year's A-to-Z Challenge, I determined that it only made sense to use the Zooropa world, which was all I needed to finally reach the conclusion, which will come in the form of "Shooks Run," from an outline I actually completed last year, without realizing where the story would be by this point. (If you're interested in my A-to-Z, it'll be at the Monk, as always.)
So I will soon have the shape of that whole story completed, including its ending, which may seem to be a little out of left field, the way Cloak of Shrouded Men and Pale Moonlight end. I'm not regressing, though. I wonder if I will rewrite the whole Zooropa saga one day. But for now, it's enough to know I finally have its ending, because that's something that has eluded me for close to two decades. Which is incredibly frustrating for a writer who has made endings so important to his stories. But all the sweeter for finally having reached it.