Sunday, May 6, 2012
The Art of Writing No 31
I have written about how the first paragraph of you novel can seduce the reader in the bookshop or on a website. The opening paragraph of a novel should really be returned to, time and again. It is probably the most refined piece of writing in the whole book. Almost equal to it is the final paragraph. Why it comes second is that usually it is not a factor in someone actually buying the book though I do know people who read the end first to see whether they are going to like it!
The worst that can happen in writing is finding too late that your novel is a cul de sac, that the end just will not come or cannot be satisfactorily resolved. The second worst problem is finding a perfectly adequate ending that leaves the reader feeling underwhelmed. The third worst finale is disbelief and anger at being led up the garden path to no purpose. The fourth is an artificial tying up of all the loose ends – even though people love closure and have done so since the time of Dickens. Modern audiences, however, want resolution tinged with a little uncertainty. Realism should prevail and life is never that tidy.
Best endings tend to be the reverse. As I was outlining above about opening paragraphs, repeated returns to the end game help you, consciously or unconsciously, to find a path to the conclusion which sits naturally in your narrative.
Since I write organically and have no idea of the ending, I use my growing reminder sheet at the bottom of my draft to suggest possible endings. Over time, these get scrubbed out, leaving the one that will go live and even that will be modified at the very end. In Azimuth there are two stories, like entwined DNA, both being long and complex and each ending falls, only two or three pages from the other, at the very culmination of the book. You can read the reviews of Azimuth on the Kindle site or on my Azimuth site (see below) to check out the effect the endings have on readers.
In Miseryby Stephen King, the story hinges on a female fan of a novelist who kidnaps him to try to stop him killing off the main character in a series of successful books. An ending she could not condone after all the endings she has read in the series. It is the perfect illustration that endings must satisfy. We understand her fiendish fanaticism and identify with it. Thus, King provides uswith a great ending about the nature of endings!
After reading Azimuth, a friend said she felt bereft. “But what is happening to those wonderful part-humans, now? she asked, “I miss them and worry about them.”
Azimuth by Jack Sanger in separate volumes on Kindle Amazon