Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Story Craft-- Why Endings Are Important

these are the facts
Without a shadow of a doubt, without fault or error, endings are the only thing that can make or break a story to the point of ruining the entire experience. Even more so than sloppy or boring characters, a slow or confusing plot, a bad ending can make a story go from being good to becoming terrible. I know this may seem obvious or you may immediately refute such a claim, and that is okay. A story is like going on vacation, the beginning and middle can be rough, flights delayed or realizing you forgot your phone charger at home but if you make it to your destination then the whole trip was worth while. So I would like to show you an example of how a bad ending can ruin what is, for the most part, a good story and how a good ending can make a somewhat tedious, and at times uninteresting, story worth reading. 

THE BAD ENDING

The Dragonriders of Pern-
This story, this world, should have been the greatest story I have ever read. It checks off all the boxes for things I love in stories: dragons, space exploration, time travel, interesting social/economic/technological understandings. This story is the ultimate bridge between fantasy and science fiction and for most people is a beloved series of books. Not so for me. In a series of 22 novels spanning a history of 2500 years I have only read the first three books because the ending of that original trilogy did not live up to the world and the characters that Anne McCaffrey's had created. The ending just sort of sputters on, hinting at what might come, while allowing the conflicts of the past to just be over. It seemed that McCafferey was more interesting in the larger narrative and forgot about the story she was writing. The first two of the original trilogy: Dragonflight and Dragonquest, develop not only the world and the social/economic issues along with the larger physical danger that makes the need for dragons so important but also the characters that live in this world and grow through the trials and solutions to the problems they face. White Dragon, the third book, pushes those characters aside in favor of younger characters. This would not be a problem especially in light of the larger story, and yet it fails because the novel has no story of its own. Instead White Dragon becomes part resolution for the previous two books and part bridge book to set up the rest of the series that followed from this story. A bridge does not an ending make. A bridge is not a destination, just another part to the journey. It is a non-ending and for me that is a bad ending. I felt cheated of an ending even if it meant there would be a new beginning in the next part of the series. This 'bridge work' did not make me want to keep reading. It made me feel like I wasted my time reading the first two books which were good reads. I wanted to like these books and certainly many people do and would disagree with my assessment but for me the whole story was ruined by the lack of an ending.

THE GOOD ENDING

The Martian Chronicles-
This novel did not start out as a single story. It was cobbled together by Ray Bradbury from his many short stories about Mars, through rewrites, into a more cohesive, single story. From chapter to chapter the story of Mars, from the first expedition and the extinction of the Martians to the colonization in earnest of Mars by humanity, jumps from character to character or sometimes only a vignette of the scenery, while almost never returning to the same characters from previous chapters. Each chapter, because of the way the book came together, tells its own story within the grander story of Mars. Some of these story/chapters are interesting and some are tedious and dull and so whether each chapter is good or bad they are over quickly giving the reader relief from the bad chapters while making the reader long for more of the good. This make the novel, especially if a majority of the stories are not interesting to you, difficult to read. It was tempting to set the book down and never finish it. It didn't feel worth the effort to reach the end because the uninteresting was outweighing the chapters that were engaging. But the ending to this book is worth it. Up until the last paragraph of the story I was glad to just be done but the very last sentence of the story made the entire book worth reading. Even if I reproduced the sentence here it would not have the impact and power that it does at the end of the novel. Not that this was on purpose by Bradbury but the effort of reading those grating, uninteresting chapters, made the reward of reading that last line in the context with the novel such a pleasure. It changed my entire outlook on the story,which had been negative almost from the start. I love this novel.

Ultimately these two examples won't mean as much to you until you read them and I recommend that you do read them both. You may love The Dragonriders of Pern and want to read the rest of the series but I don't think you will hate The Martian Chronicles. My point is that endings are powerful for stories, so much so that they can effect and change the mind and feeling of the reader towards the entire experience.
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I hope this has been fun and even more so I hope you have a greater appreciation for stories through analyzing the endings of stories. There will be more Story Craft post to come so be on the look out. Happy hump day.


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