I pretty much said all of the endful and summing up things I wanted to say about my residency of the dog, in my penultimate blog.
I am not one of those people who linger at the door of the hospital or in the airport to milk a parting for drama and emotion. I like to say goodbye quietly and calmly and quickly. I feel partings as deeply as anyone, but something in me recoils from any sort of lavish display of wallowing in emotion. To me it feels like milk that has been frothed. Apparent substance that is merely puffed up with a lot of air.
So, this is my last day, and rather than wallow in the fact that I am sorry to leave the dog, of whom I have grown very fond, I will give it a pat as I pack my metaphors and wrap my rhetoric in tissue, and make a few final pronouncments on the subject of Endings.
Certainly this seems whimsical yet appropriate way to end this residency. In fact, I was going to call this final blog The Importance of Endings, but that sounded a bit pompous while The End was simply perfect.
I should mention, too, that Jan Stolba is again responsible for taking and selecting the photographs for this blog. His brief was to give me some photographs that would suit a blog about endings. It was, as you see, a very vague direction but I loved what he came up with. Only the initial photograph and the few at the end of the blog were taken by me, during one of my very occasional cemetery walks here in Prague. That is not as morbid as it sounds, as you will see from the pictures which are not only appropriate because a cemetery is a place of endings and epitaphs, but also because one of the examples of great endings that I did not paste below, is Kafka’s The Castle, which ends absolutely abruptly and perfectly for that book, and one of greatest stories I have ever read was his The Hunger Artist which has the most powerful final image I have ever encountered in a story, and one of the photographs I took in the cemetary is of Kafka’s grave.
As you might have guessed, I am the sort of person who prefers a slight downbeat ending suggesting hope of the humbler, lower-case, non bombastic variety. People in my books do not smite down the Dark Lord or win the Prince or live happily ever after. They struggle on with hope, mostly, knowing the battle is not over. Their victories are often bittersweet and in general, not what they might have dreamed of. It seems to me there is a truth in the gentle courage of Going On, despite what might have befallen you, that all the happy ever afters Disney spawns.
Which is not to say that an ending with a flourish cannot be brilliant and deeply affecting, if it is the right ending for that piece of work and if it is beautifully done. But I have also read many an abysmal endingwith a flourish that made me want to cringe with embarrassment. So I will say it again- an ending has to be done well. As to what 'well' means, every writer who has been ever been published is asked about endings by those trying to write who imagine we must actually know what we are doing. The trouble is, every ending is different because every book is a different journey. Every journey ends up somewhere new- or you hope it does, so you have to plot the course and ending for a piece anew, every time.
And no matter how many times you do it, it is hard because you know it is important to get it right.
What most writers say about endings is that they have to be appropriate, they have to feel inevitable, which means what has gone before must lead up to them. The characters and their interactions, the focus of their activities, the conflicts - must all be shaped by the end to come? An end cannot occur by some means that is not somehow inherent in the story leading up to it. For instance you cannot have a woman fighting an evil warlord who has tormented and pursued her for a whole book, then have the evil warlord fall off his horse and break his neck just when they are about to fight. This ending is known as Deus ex Machina (which means a god from a machine) and it is when something happens by chance to end the story. The Greeks did this often in their plays, but it is nearly impossible to write a story with such an ending, without driving the reader mad.
Another thing about the end is that we need to feel the characters have changed over the course of the events in the book, and the end ought to reflect that growth. People often talk about great beginnings but all they have to do is capture the reader’s attention. The ending happens after all else has happened, and so it must seem in some way or another, to be the logical extension of what the book is about.
An ending should be an emotional and intellectual answer to the promise you have built into the piece you have written.
Think about what forces you've set in conflict throughout the middle of the book and ask yourself what ending will bring those forces into a plausible, satisfying climax
The reader should feel it was the only possible ending.
What you should not do at the end is to tie up every loose end or neatly and happily resolve every single character's story. Such an end will ring false because it is not a truthful ending- real people's lives are not neatly rolled up like balls of string!
The end must be the logical and natural and organic extension of the actions preceding it and those actions must have grown naturally out of the personalities of the characters. The climax cannot come about because of a new, outside force. This is not a good idea and neither is coincidence. Coincidences certainly happen in real life, but in stories and in books they always look contrived. Of course, you can still surprise the reader with an unexpected ending. You just have to make sure the surprise is logical and the clues are laid down throughout the book so that once they are over the surprise, a reader will feel that of course inevitably it had to end that way.
One novel I can think of that I loved and which had the perfect ending was China Mieville's, Perdido Street Station. It is grim and sad at the last, but if you read through the scenes leading up to it, you will see that there IS no other way the novel could have ended without negating the scenes that built to that ending.
My own approach to endings is that it is better to have an ending in mind when you start to write. That is not to say you actually have to end up in that way and in that place. It just gives you something to work purposefully towards. What usually happens to me, and I think it is a pretty common phenomenon, is that about two thirds of the way through the book or story, I find I am some way east or west of where I had originally planned to end up. And the ultimate trajectory of this slightly altered journey will see me end up in the North. This is when I have to decide if where I wanted to go initially is right and if so, why I have diverged and if there is no reason for the divergence, then how do I get back on track. Another possible response is to go with the flow and see where this new course leads me, since it may well bring me to a deeper and more profound end than the one I envisaged. After all if the characters and plot are slanting that way so strongly, there must be strong and deep currents in the story I have not consciously perceived. Another possibility is to plot a new course based on some combination of these alternatives, which might feel truer than the ending you originally imagined.
With almost every book and story I have written. I have had to stop and replot at some point. This is not defeat, and it is important to know that because this is exactly the point at which a lot of people writing will feel they have got writers' block, and that will be that. I do not believe in writers' block. I think that a story falters for a reason- something else is required or something needs to be clarified or recast or thought through. And when this happens to you, very often all you need do is to re-plot, envisaging a new ending point. This might again change before you really reach the end. But the story has its momentum by now and if the flow of it is strong you can trust it to carry you where you will need to go.
As to envisaging an ending, I don't necessarily mean you need to come up with a complete and neat ending. For me the idea of an ending is often no more than a vision of a certain moment, or certain actions that will result in a certain and very specific feeling in the reader and usually, in the main character and in me. So while a main character might wed a prince, I might have envisaged sadness and so I will write towards that feeling at the end.
Before I go on, I ought to differentiate here between a climax and an ending. The climax of a story is the denouement while the end is like a postscript. You must show the consequences of the plot and the fate of any characters not accounted for in the climax. The last paragraph or sentence of a novel or story should resonate, or set off a complex emotional reaction in the reader, connected to the events and motion of the book and the climax.
It is no simple matter to come up with a good end. In fact, there are many bad books with bad endings, and even a few great books with weak endings.
For instance, I am always in two minds about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The heroine of the book drops down a rabbit hole, whereupon she meets a hookah-smoking caterpillar, attends a mad tea party, plays croquet with the murderous and manical Queen of Hearts yet the book ends with the line: “Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!”
Here are some great endings to books to inspire you:
...you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. –Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before. –Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
He loved Big Brother. –George Orwell, 1984
‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’ –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky— seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness. –Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision. –Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita. –Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. –Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining. –Samuel Beckett, Molloy
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty. –Jack Kerouac, On the Road
I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it! –William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
‘I shall feel proud and satisfied to have been the first author to enjoy the full fruit of his writings, as I desired, because my only desire has been to make men hate those false, absurd histories in books of chivalry, which thanks to the exploits of my real Don Quixote are even now tottering, and without any doubt will soon tumble to the ground. Farewell.’ –Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who. –Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (One of my personal favorites)
The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off. –Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Is it possible for anyone in Germany, nowadays, to raise his right hand, for whatever the reason, and not be flooded by the memory of a dream to end all dreams? –Walter Abish, How German Is It?
But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. –George Eliot, Middlemarch
He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance. –Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city. –Albert Camus, The Plague (this always gives me chills)
For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate. –Albert Camus, The Stranger (this one, too)
Yes, they will trample me underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four hundred million five hundred six, reducing me to specks of voiceless dust, just as, in all good time, they will trample my son who is not my son, and his son who will not be his, and his who will not be his, until the thousand and first generation, until a thousand and one midnights have bestowed their terrible gifts and a thousand and one children have died, because it is the privilege and the curse of midnight’s children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace. –Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49. –Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
Are there any questions? –Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Here below are pictures of Kafka's final resting place. The letters are things people wrote to him and left, weighed down with a stone .
Finally, to conclude the blog about endings, and my residence insideadog, a poem about endings, by the incomparable Phillip Larkin.
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
Thanks for visiting me insidethedog. If you miss me, come visit me on facebook. I am the Isobelle Carmody with a camera up to my face.
Or keep an eye out for my blog when it emerges from the mists in July.