To Engage Change

September 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

At Farrar Strauss Giroux’s Work in Progress blog (via Matt Bell), author Nelly Reifler (Elect H. Mouse State Judge) on her disdain for neat endings:

We writers have the urge to wrap up our stories, to provide our characters, ourselves and our readers with a sense of completion. For a while I had trouble ending my stories because I thought that I needed to somehow contain or recap everything that had unfolded in the preceding pages; I thought an ending had to be the end. It was befuddling for me. I hoped that in my fiction I was talking about the awkward, ineffable, eerie, and unresolvable aspects of life, and coming to a conclusion felt contradictory to what I understood as fiction’s purpose. It felt like lying.

To my mind, a story’s ending ought to acknowledge the ever-moving quality of life; that is, I want it to engage change rather than finality. Your final word and the void following it on the page are as close as you’ll get to conclusion. The best endings to stories have a sense of hovering in space and time; even a dark ending can be uplifting, exhilarating, as long as it seems to hover in space and time — because then it reflects life to us as it is: unresolved, eternally unresolvable.

One of the lessons I took away from the Barrelhouse workshop is that a story should be a journey—it should take the protagonist (and reader) to a situation different from where they started. There needs to be something important at stake for this to happen—you can’t just have a character quit a job or end a relationship when they can then just as easily go back to the starting space in either circumstance. But it is also naïve to think that there will not be ramifications to the decisions made during the course of the story after the story has ended. It is still a challenge I face as I confront my parking lot problem in my own writing.


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