nning. Pushing The End to The Begi

I met a woman last week who reads books in a particular manner. She’ll read the last few pages first, decide if she likes the way it ends, and if so, she’ll then start reading from page one. She added that this method allows her to know if there’s going to be a satisfactory ending before investing time in the main story.

I do accept her argument as logically sound, but there are books where the ending makes very little sense unless you’ve ingested the main text. I’m thinking of an epic novel, such as Moby Dick. Reading the conclusion without knowing the tensions between Captain Ahab and his crew, detailed in the rest of the story, you won’t fully understand why their voyage ended the way it did.

If you ever do tackle Moby Dick, incidentally, you can quite safely skip Herman Melville’s obsessive personal polemics about the whale.

Another problem with this system is that some books paint a picture rather than tell a story. Consider Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the novella, not the film, although the woman in question uses the same method with DVDs. Truman Capote explores the complex relationship between the narrator and Holly Golightly in such a rich manner that there is as much to be gained from the description as the plot.

I do enjoy including some historical context in my entries. Read the prologue of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and those 14 lines give away the plot before any of the other actors say a word. Audiences expected to be given the precis at the beginning.

By the 20th century, the position was completely reversed. Agatha Christie understood this when she wrote The Mousetrap, at the end of which she specifically asks the audience to keep the secret. These days, there is still an expectation that endings will be kept under wraps, or clearly marked Spoiler Alertwith the odd exception such as Star Wars or The Sixth Sense, where it seems fair game to give it away. But there are also websites you can consult if you want the full plot.

I’ve created a poll to gauge how many WordPress users agree with my feelings on the matter. If necessary, do expand on your answer in the comments.

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The End of The Beginning.

Ye gods! I knew I was living under a rock with LiveJournal, yet I didn’t realise the exact extent until other users started hitting the Like button. I’m unaccustomed to such a response, and I much appreciate it.

I chose WordPress over sites such as Blogger because I have a couple of friends here already. Even the range of basic features are bewildering; when I typed Like button in the previous paragraph, it gave me a Wikipedia link to the Like button page. After a little more kicking the tyres, I’m sure I’ll soon crawl into the 21st century.

Today I’m talking about endings. I recently read two short story anthologies by the same publisher: one from 2011, the other from this year. It struck me that a high number of the pieces in both of these did not have a proper ending, in fact the editor seemed to prefer this style. In some cases, the author would conclude with a limp or vague paragraph. In other cases, it would simply stop, leaving me checking for a missing page and in a couple of cases, asking, “And?” out loud.

It was disappointing rather than annoying because a lot of the stories in the anthology contained great ideas that were let down by their execution.

I try to give my stories a twist ending, or at least a clear marker the reader has reached the end. I don’t always manage, however. I recently received a rejection from a publisher looking for funny stories because, “… the ending lacked a good punch line.” To me, a rounded ending is important in a short story. Even if the reader is meant to be left in some doubt, there ought to be enough clues or information in the body of the story to narrow it down to two or three possible options about what might happen next.

One important exception, however, is autobiographical writing. I’m going to come back to this in more detail on Monday. For purely fictional writing, however, an ending is king.

Photo of mug with,
Not The Booker Prize, nor The Nine O’Clock News.

I was going to leave it until Monday to post about the Not the Booker Prize run by The Guardian, but the deadline is midnight on Sunday.

In my last entry, I mentioned my writing sensei Zöe Venditozzi. Her novel has been shortlisted, and I encourage you to click on the photo above and vote for it before the deadline of midnight on Sunday.

That’s not just because I know her, but because it’s a cracking character-driven piece from a début novelist, featuring alongside established authors Neil Gaiman and Kate Atkinson. It also happens to feature a chap with my very initials who happens to volunteer at hospital radio, just as I do.

To cast your nomination, you’ll need to create a Guardian account and write a short review in the comments. As the paper says, Comment is free, and so is your vote.