The End

[December 2005] Six little characters, two short words that are both the aim and the bane of writers. We set out with our “once upon a times” hoping—trusting—that we will eventually get to “and they all lived happily ever after” (or, as in the case of many horror novels “and they all lived miserably ever after, those who were unlucky enough to survive”) after which we will gleefully plonk out “The End.”

For some writers, that’s it. They have revised so diligently along the way that the first complete version of the story or novel is polished and ready to go. For them, the story is done, and it’s on to the next project. For others, though, “The End” is merely a brief flirtation with closure, the prelude to revisiting the tale . . . again, and again, and again.

However, these six letters can have profound melancholia associated with them. At least that’s what I experienced last week when I typed them at the completion of a 96,000-word novel that I had been racing through at break-neck speed since the first day of November. For five weeks, I got up every morning and immersed myself in the lives of my characters and their individual and corporate plights. I looked forward each day to revisiting them, to spending time with them and learning more about them. I even went on a real road trip with them, in a sense, visiting the location where the book is set. I talked about them to myself almost non-stop as I drove across the miles, seeing what they would see, experiencing what they felt, and exploring their characters more deeply as I grew to understand them better.

On that trip I learned many things about them that are not yet in the book, but will be on revision. However, that process is some weeks in the future and I have to say, quite frankly, I miss them. By keying in “The End,” I was closing the door on them for a while. Sorry, folks, but I don’t have time to spend with you right now. I have others that I must revisit, and new characters to investigate. The day after I finished The Silent Desert, I ambitiously tackled a new story, wherein I met and got to know two new characters.

I felt like I was cheating on my old friends. Standing them up. Ignoring them for this new couple.

I think about the folks in The Silent Desert often. My enthusiasm must have been obvious when I sent the rough manuscript to my agent, because he told me that in spite of how busy he was at the moment, he would make the time to read anything I was this excited about.

I sincerely hope he likes the book enough to recommend I spend time revising it, because I can’t wait to get back to it. To go back to the beginning and meet the characters all over again so that I can tweak and enhance their flat portrayals on the page into the rounded, vibrant, vital people living inside my head. However, it will be a double-edged sword, because I know that after weeks or months spent with them, I will inevitably return to that chasm in the relationship at the end. Those six little letters that sit there now like a roadblock. They say to me, “Beyond this point you shall not proceed. What lies in the future, you will not know.”

How often have you as a reader hated to reach the end of a book? You find yourself reading more slowly, putting the book down more frequently because you feel the remaining pages thinning beneath your right hand. The time you’ve spent with the story and the characters has been memorable, and you feel a sense of loss when you turn that last page—hoping against hope that perhaps two pages were stuck together and maybe you’ll be rewarded with the briefest of reprieves—and see that beyond the final words lies the great white abyss of end-pages.

I do have an idea of what happens for the citizens of The Silent Desert after the story ends; however, I’ll probably never explore it. Never visit with them in the aftermath, because what happens after the book ends is no longer story; it’s life. It has no dramatic imperative, hence it will remain unwritten. But I do like to imagine two characters in particular—and not the two that I envisioned from the outset—living out their lives together. It comforts me to think that “The End” was not the end for them, but in many ways the beginning.

In some literary forms of prose, stories and novels end in media res. I sometimes refer to it as the “foreign film effect,” because my wife and I have watched enough French movies to know that they’re probably going to go black and the credits will start rolling at a point that inevitably makes us say, “Oh, no, not now.” These stories enter conflict and build up to a point of transition . . . and then they stop. Their intent is to motivate the reader/viewer to imagine what comes next. To work through what everything up to this point means and how it will impact the characters. I don’t have the courage yet to be that abrupt in my fiction, but no writer can tell everything about his characters. At some point, we have to release them into the minds of our readers.

“The End” doesn’t necessarily mean “buh-dee, buh-dee, that’s all folks!” Neither for the reader nor for the writer. What it means from the writer’s perspective is that I have (hopefully) breathed life into these golems and set them free. Ushered them through some rough times and gotten them to a place where they can go on without my constant care and watering. As a reader, it means that I now know these people well enough—thanks to the gracious introduction afforded by the writer—that I can keep them with me in my mind and in my heart and think of them from time to time, like friends who have relocated out of state, wondering what they’re up to these days and hoping that all is going well for them.

Not such bad words after all, are they?




Comments are closed.