Thursday, October 25, 2012

Finishing the Race

I will always say this, but completing a book is hard.

And I am being serious. Probably one of the most difficult things is trying to complete a work of fiction, because its a challenge to find a good place to rest the action of your plot. Luckily I have some good tips for you to help make the process of finishing anything just a little easier.

The best way I have found to end a book is to take the ending from three separate angles. First, is the Cinematic approach. Movies are very formulaic when it comes to pacing, direction, and plot development. If you've ever read Save the Cat by Blake Synder you'll understand that the first thing you have to do, considering the protagonist, is have him "save the cat" or do something that the audience will find likable, and therefore invest themselves emotionally into the character. If we are dealing with villains and antiheroes, it's the opposite: Kill the cat, or punch the baby, etc. Now this pacing is, by the book, achieved within the first 20 minutes of every film. Older movies from the 50s generally achieved this within the first 30 minutes, which is probably why people complain that older flicks move so slow compared to newer films. Anyways, this buildup of likability, the fall from grace, and the recovery of the hero's honor in the conflict, these elements are key in making any movie successful. Now the reason why I went into all this detail is because books follow similar beats and patterns. Especially at the end. E.M. Forster's novel A Passage to India we see this. In the beginning of the novel, Fielding fights and defends his friendship with Aziz, as a liberal minded, outspoken individual. However as the oppressive atmosphere of colonialism in India drives a wedge between them, the greater narrative closes the book on the two as they attempt to make amends and swear brotherhood. Ultimately they are broken apart when their horses must take separate paths. The theme of Unity at the end of the story is revisited, and is inverted causing for a pessimistic ending against the nature of humanity. Now this is very cinematic. You have a bold narrator giving the premise of the world environment and then ultimately the protagonist saying the same thing at the end to close off the narrative. The primary theme that you as a writer are trying to assert is either inverted or reapplied in affirmation. This is the Cinematic style in a nutshell.

The second way to End a narrative is more subtle and depends on what your story ultimately achieves. The Postmodern ending, which is just what I like to call it, is where the book ends on a theme of rejection of the ultimate premise of the narrative worldview. This differs from the cinematic style in that, the prior style you are affirming or rejecting what you, the writer, desire to affirm or reject. Here it's from a different perspective. This is like the ending of George Orwell's 1984 where the main protagonist Winston Smith ultimately fails to rebel against Big Brother, falling into the treachery of O'Brien, his perceived ally. After being mentally reconditioned, Winston lives out his days loving Big Brother, though it is assumed that he will be executed eventually after he has regained full faith in the System that enslaved him. This spirit of Irony is simple and powerful. Another example of what could have been a Postmodern ending is if Christopher Nolan concluded Dark Knight Rises with Bane breaking Batman's back.

The third and final way to end a book is the simplest. Just end it! As writers I think we have been conditioned by institutions and individuals in our lives to write in ways that are inorganic and unnatural. You don't have to do anything fancy. Sometimes the end just needs to come. Sometimes it's good to feel the strain of an incomplete story. Don't let anyone tell you how to end a book. Period.

Anyways, that's all I have for you guys today. I hope you all enjoyed another lesson. See you all next week!

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