Thursday, March 17, 2011

Endings and the potential failure they bring

So I do go on a bit about the fact that 'I am writing/finishing/redrafting a novel blah blah blah' at the moment. Tell me when this gets boring. Turns out, second/third drafts can have moments where you just want to bash your head against the wall. I am fixing up the middle and the end and am thus thinking a lot about endings. Mainly, how I don't want my ending to suck. Just because it's a YA novel, doesn't mean it can be half-baked crap. This leads me to think about some of the books I've read that seem to be let down by their endings. I'm not just talking about first novels here, (although yeah, those can have really painfully bad endings. Rocks in the Belly, I'm looking at you ). I recently sped my way through the first Dexter novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. I also finally finished reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Yes, two vastly different books. One might argue that they're not even in the same league. But to be fair to Jeff Lindsay, his first book is very well written. I was surprised by how evocative and clever it was, as I don't usually enjoy the crime genre. The ending seems a little underdeveloped though. He spends the whole book leading us up to it and when we are finally in the same room as Dexter and 'the bad guy' (I am protecting those of you yet to read/watch this) it's like he just skips to the end. Why?

Now to The Poisonwood Bible. This is a brilliant book. I am about, what, ten or so years late for a review? It's been out since 1998. I'm sure many people have raved more eloquently than I can about how cleverly she captures the voice of each female narrator in the Price family and how vividly she depicts The Belgian/newly 'independent' Congo during the unrest in the 1960's, as well as showing missionaries at their worst. But the ending I find a little baffling. She continues the story for several decades after the family's traumatic exit from the Congo. And while it is beautifully written and provides some important details for character development, I do wonder how essential it was for her to continue the story so long after the major events. I'd have thought it would have worked better with the whole thing framed inside that major story line/setting. It's almost like having one false ending, and then a slowly-moving second one showing the family's life after, (something found a lot in Wes Anderson films...)
Though that's just my opinion, it's still a wonderfully layered book and I'm only this critical because the standard she is setting with it is so damn high.

Endings are hard, full stop. They're even harder for those of us who are working on our first manuscripts. It doesn't matter how great your beginning is, or even the middle, if the end falls flat. The ending is the last thing readers are left with. It's your chance to bring the whole thing together, to reach back to the beginning and prove you know what you're doing.
Let's hope I do know what I'm doing.

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