Sunday, July 08, 2007

Some thoughts on endings

For my MFA, I have to write a 15 page paper devoted to one aspect of the craft of writing fiction. This isn't a research or scholarly paper, but rather a paper that delves into (hopefully) how a writer reads to improve her understanding of writing. I've chosen endings because I find them very tough to write.

Here are my current thoughts, which I plan to include in my essay. Any comments/ideas are more than welcome.

An ending must satisfy both the action plot and the emotional plot of the story. We must know what happens in the most basic sense (does he get the girl? do they make it home alive?) and also what happens emotionally to the character that changes him/her in whatever small or large way.

Studying a good ending is really like studying the whole story because the ending must be set up in so many different ways, starting with the title. Everything in the story, every character, every action, every symbol must lead to or point to the ending. Best Blogger Tips


TI said...

What a great topic. Are you going to discuss any examples of bad endings and explain why they don't work?

Bug said...

Ooh. Good idea. Any suggestions for bad endings? I doubt I'll find any in my semester's reading (well, I hope I won't). I wonder if I could chose really bad writing (like Hester did in her sentimentality lecture) as examples.

TI said...

Good writing with a bad ending, thus ruining hte book, would be more interesting than bad writing. I thought that Ian McEwan's _Amsterdam_ had a bad ending, but I read it so long ago I don't know if I'd still think so.

Gili said...

did you go to Buki's seminar on this? if not, I can send you all my notes, which might be really helpful. just let me know.
my mom thinks that p roth's ending to plot against america is one of the worst endings ever. we were just talking about it at dinner. i think lots of good books have horrible endings. you know who has some strange endings? tobias wolff. he's my favorite and sometimes i'm not sure what to think. check out old school and also some of his short stories in the night in question.

bostonerin said...

I like the idea of choosing bad endings as examples--it's easier to explain why something is NOT working than it is to explain why it IS.

What about endings that leave people unsatisfied? lots of times, readers want their fiction wrapped in a nice bow, but often that's not what the writer feels is the best way to (ahem) tie up the story.

Have you read BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE, by Charles Baxter? It's a collection of his lectures on writing. You might want to skim the chapter on endings for some ideas (I took it out of the library, or I'd let you borrow).

Bug said...

Wow! Such great ideas. Thanks you! Gili, I was in Buki's seminar, which was very helpful. I'll check out those books you recommend. I think my problem with finding bad endings is that I don't feel qualified to judge endings, since I don't understand them all that well yet. Does that make sense?
Erin, thanks! I have Bringing Down the House. I've only read chunks of it, and not the ending part. But I will tonight!

FatCharlatan said...

Continuing with Erin's thought, I seem to recall hearing that Baxter talks about epiphanies in endings--and if they're necessary. If you're looking to narrow the topic down (not that you need to), that might be one way to do it. I also seem to recall in the packet of sample craft annotations from our first semester a student writing about this when discussing Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius--that might be one book to consider in your reading and discussion of endings (I haven't read it, but I know several people who have strong opinions about the ending of that book).

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