Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How To End A Story, How To Rant On Facebook

A friend of mine is a teacher (I'm not showing off, that's not the end of the sentence. READ ON YOU FOOL) and she just got in touch through facebook to ask me:
"Do you have any ideas about activities I could do with my Year 13s to help them think about how to end a story?"
She's a teacher. Did I mention that? Cool, right?
Anyway, while I didn't really have any practical ideas to help her, I did have a little rant about story endings. Here it is in its entirety, as I typed it. Yes, this is how I type messages on facebook, including all the random capitalisations and exclamations.
I said:
PICK MY BRAINS! OK. I'll not write my new book for the next few minutes, I'll give myself entirely to YOU.
The way I look at it, the ending of a story MUST be planned out before you start. Great director Alexander Mackendrick ( said: "If you've got a beginning, but don't yet have an end, then you're mistaken. You don't have the right beginning."
So being stuck on your ending just means you haven't planned things out properly or you haven't written the beginning and the middle properly.
The trick is to START WITH THE ENDING. You need to do a session on story structure - ACTS. Do it like a mountain range.

Or watch this video and translate it into whatever you like:
Once you're comfortable with the concept of a story being a series of UPS and DOWNS on that graph (or mountain range, or roller coaster or whatever) then an ENDING must be the final UP or DOWN. It's the completion or final failure of the task that originated at the BEGINNING. (That's why the beginning is so important to your ending. The ending is contained within everything implied by the beginning.)
Whatever desire or need drives the story is fulfilled or finally dashed at the end. If anyone is struggling with their ending, it's usually because there isn't a strong enough desire or need driving their story. This is a problem with their story, their character, their entire world and everything they've written.
You need to picture everything about your ending at every point that you're writing the rest of your story. To be honest, it's what keeps me writing: the desperate fear that I might DIE before reaching the point where I write the ending that's living in my head and in my plans.
The magnitude of that final UP or DOWN of the ending must be bigger than any of the UPS or DOWNS along the way (the act climaxes).
There are also clever endings: the character fulfils his need/desire in stunning fashion (a big UP) but at the same time realises that wasn't what he was really after all along, he really wanted something else (to find hinmself, to reconcile with his mother, whatever). That's called an IRONIC ending (in the trade).
I suggest you get a short story they can read the entirety of pretty quickly (maybe LIFTERS? Hahahahahahaha advertising my own books in my facebook rants - EXCELLENT!) and get them comfortable with charting the ups & downs of a character's fortunes.
*****SPOILERS HERE***** So don't read the next paragraph if you don't want to know what happens at the end of LIFTERS *****
At the end of LIFTERS, for example, Adaq achieves what he thought his desire was at the beginning of the story - he now has the means to forget his life of crime and start a new life on his own two feet. But it's come at a price. He no longer has his sister - perhaps what he really wanted, deep down, was to fix that relationship. He is also less sure about his own identity than he was at the start - maybe finding his own identity was really what he wanted all along, not money or independence.
So is it an UP ending or a DOWN ending? I don't know, but it's a GOOD ending. Superficially it should be an UP, but it feels more like a DOWN.
Get them to think up ENDINGS that are either big UPS, big DOWNS or something more complicated. Then you can work backwards to plan out the rest of the story.
And now I will just finish. A surprise ending.

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