They Are The Last Thing

From the day we are born and we start to live we pass through different stages. From childhood to youth to adolescence, to old age, we live the different phases of life. And as we transition from one phase to a new one some things end for us. Until eventually everything comes to an end. Careers, relationships, jobs, friendships, love – they all end, just as all stories end.

As a fiction writer you hope and try to end your stories with a bang. The end is the reader’s reward, for sticking with you for so many hours and days, for as long as it takes them to finish the book and hence you as a writer owe them a strong dramatic payoff. The best endings are the “totally unexpected” and yet the “totally right”.

Recently I read David Baldacci’s book Hour Game (Warner Books 2004). The book has 101 chapters and is 437 pages long. With its plot, story, characters, writing, and fluent style, the book is a page turner. But to be honest the ending was a total disappointment. For me the story ended by the end of chapter 88, on page 377. After that the story drifted away. It went on and on for 60 more pages. At the end the villain turned into this character with such supernatural powers. Quite simply he turned into some kind of ‘Rambo’. Unexpected, surprise endings are good but only if they are believable and realistic.

I thought perhaps I was being too analytical and impatient and perhaps I was reading with a writer’s eye. But then my friend who also at the time was reading David Baldacci’s other book Wish You Well (Warner Books 2000) complained about the ending. “I don’t get it,” she said. “After the story ended, the author added an epilogue where he killed off his characters after very briefly mapping out the rest of their lives. I don’t see why?” So it wasn’t just me, I thought. I wonder if anyone ever told Baldacci that his endings, to put it plainly, suck.

Chekhov said that endings, as well as openings, were where authors did most of their lying. True. But just because the author wanted to end his story with a bang doesn’t make it right for him to lie without being plausible. His ending failed to be “right and true“. As a reader I felt let down and cheated. Endings must resonate. They are the last thing one reads in a story. Sure, it’s fiction and as such it isn’t life but fiction at best represents life. And as E. M. Forster said:

“We turn to fiction, because there we can know people perfectly, and apart from the general pleasure of reading, we can find here a compensation for their dimness in life.”


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