Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wrestling with an angel


No, I’m not trying out titles for the latest WWF-romance (Shut up you, if Amish-romances are all the rage, you can too have WWF romances as a sub-genre) and I’m only referring to Jacob’s fight with an angel in an allegorical sort of way.

What I’m talking about here is trying to “close” a novel. Oh, I know Dave and I have both talked about the point when everything magically comes together and you just coast to the end. You hit this point where you’re in a special frame of mind and a particular “state of grace” and you just seem to coast through the hard stuff. I’ve heard of painters and musicians describing this state, too. It’s like your subconscious has been doing all the hard work, and suddenly it all meets and is perfect.

Only sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes – and this is usually when the novel, for whatever reason is important to you, or significant in some way – you struggle right up to the end. And I end up locked with it, in single combat, feeling like either I finish it or it will finish me.

And when this happens – Gentleman Takes A Chance; Heart and Soul; Darkship Thieves – I am always terrified I’m doing something mortally wrong. So, in addition to the novel itself, I’m wrestling with my fears and my lack of understanding of my own writing.

I am starting to believe that this effect, which seems to grow strong with each of my last five novels is the result of my refusal to compromise.

You know what I mean. To bring the novel to the paper, you compromise a little. You give here, you pull there and you say “Yes, yes, a scene with a cast of thousands and a hundred elephants would be nice, but damned if I know how to write it, so I’ll do the guy and his friend and they just TALK about the elephants and the crowds.” I’ve done this for years. Only suddenly, it’s not enough. I want the noise and surge of the crowds – metaphorically speaking – the heat of the day, the smell of unwashed bodies, the plop of the elephants’... Well, you get what I mean.

So – what should I do? Is it worth wrestling with the angel, even if you know in the end a part of you is going to be lost to this book, a part of you injured or captive in the text? Or should I let it go and learn the art of the possible? Do you ever finish books and feel like it flinched off what should be a “drag me kicking and screaming” ending? Or do you feel that the ends should just tie lose ends and sort of let you down easy?

The question, my friends, is do you want the end to come at the climax, like a clap of thunder and a clash of cymbals? Or leisurely and quietly like an apres-l’amour cigarette? Are there endings you prefer for a certain type of book? Why?

Let me know what you think. I’ll be right here, wrestling with an angel.

18 comments:

Jonathan D. Beer said...

Myself, I'm a climax sort of guy... Okay, lets just get all the jokes and giggling out of the way, so we can talk like grown-ups. Teeheehee... climax.

Anyway. I actually am a chap who favours the climactic ending - all the characters and pieces falling into place, the tempo building and building, and then a mighty cresendo that carries the reader away with it. The best analogy I can think of is Nessun Dorma, an operatic piece of music that Pavarotti made his own in 1990. The moment the music breaks in the final moments, crowned by just a pristine held note - its magnificent. If a book ending could achieve that same power, it would have done the job and then some.

However, I am also a fan of the epilogue. After the great bow-wave that I just described, its inevitable (sometimes) that there are still things to tie up. And I enjoy an epilogue, if done right - it can hook you into the story for the following book, give resolution to a particular character or plotline in a nice, gentle way - I seem to prefer the calmer, more sedate epilogue, after the grand climax of an ending.

Some filthy-minded people could see an innuendo in that. Fortunately I'm not one of those people.

PS - If you aren't familiar with Nessun Dorma, watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdTBml4oOZ8. Simply miraculous.

Jim McCoy said...

Go for the gusto Sarah. I can't help but think that taking the easy way out will have an effect on the product and I BUY your product. I want the best you can give me. Nobody ever promised you it would be easy.

It's time for you to take on the perspective of an NFL running back about to take a hand-off during a short-yardage situation: Look up, realize that life is about to suck, lower your head and charge so that you can get the job done. We have faith in you Sarah. Do the right thing.

matapam said...

I love it when a topic makes me go back and look at my stuff.

I don't wrestle with endings. I know the endings, sometimes before I even start. _Organizing_ the ending so the big battle and the climax occur close together can be a chore. I seem to wrestle mainly with Characters who won't behave in the middle.

Now I'm going to have to contemplate expectable and thus boring endings. Hmm.

Kate said...

Er. Endings happen to me.

Really. I'm going along then it's "okay that's it, I'm done now" and I'm left trying to figure out how to tidy up the mess my recalcitrant character left me in.

Stephen Simmons said...

I think it very much depends on the book. For example, consider Legacy of Hierot by Niven, Pournelle & Barnes, one of my favorite books. If I remember right (can't go back and check, since twice now I've lent the book and never got it back, and haven't bought a third yet), the book pretty much just ends, as soon as the grendels figure out that trying to eat people is a bad idea. No epilogue, not even a mop-up. And it's perfect.

Or take Stranger in a Strange Land. The memorial dinner is really still part of the climax, not so much an after-action report. The "epilogue", of Mike's afterlife, is what? Two paragraphs?

On the other hand, some stories need the long, slow ride back to the Shire, the definitive setting-things-to-rights, and the final tearful parting at the Grey Havens.

In my short stories, I have a strong tendency to want to just resolve the conflict and point the reader in the direction of the ever-after, not go there and sit down for tea. Since all I've finished so far in the longer category is part one of a multu-volume story, I can't answer for that, yet.

Chris McMahon said...

I think it tends to be an individual thing. Generally the story has already 'happened' for me, but then take on a completely different dimension when I write it. All my novels really drive to end, the pace increases until I'm almost sprinting. Obviously I like the way the story concludes and can't wait to 'live it' through the page. I just hope others like it as much!

Beginnings are my problem:)

Brendan said...

If you really want a scene with thousand elephants you should have it. But when Jonathan mentioned Nessun Dorma scenes from other operas came to me, where the real action happens away from the crowds(Aida and Carmen spring to mind.) There is the triumph of the masses and the way the individual's tragedy unfolds almost despite the joie de vive that permeates the scene. We don't see the cheeering throng because in the end they are meaningless, it is the story of the individuals that counts.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Jonathan,
Myself, I never use innuendo. Just ask Kate. EVER. I'm the most pureminded person, ever.

I see what you mean about the music.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Jim,

Done, but it wrung the living daylights out of me. Why is it when I write fighting or heavy emotional scenes (and this was both) it leaves me feeling like I was run over by a steam roller?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam,

Actually I always know how the novel ends. It's just bringing it THERE that hurts. And in this case, I've revised the rest of the novel three or four times, and have another set of changes to enter, but had the final scenes to go because I KNEW what they were, but I was terrified of writing them. Er... you'll see when you get it.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Kate,

I've had stories that finish without my permission. I'm going along, towards a great, er... climax, and it's over... er... prematurely.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Stephen,

I've done both, but you see, when I "smell" the end, like Aristotles metaphorical horse, I tend to hurry things along. I hope I didn't this time.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris,

See, that used to happen to me, but the last five have just slowed down to a crawl the last fifty pages. And this one... well, there's the fight, and the emotional stuff and I was scared spitless.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Brendan,

It is always the individual. Actually the throng was just an example because for the longest time I couldn't write a scene with more than three characters in it. This wasn't a crowd scene, just a really violent, physical fight.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah,

I went off to Tasmania hoping to finish a book and ended up wrestling with the characters at about 2 chapters before the end. (You couldn't call my characters angels).

So I know how you feel.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena,

I pwned mine. I think. :)

Gary Jordan said...

First Sarah A. Hoyt said...
Jonathan,
Myself, I never use innuendo. Just ask Kate. EVER. I'm the most pureminded person, ever.

I see what you mean about the music.

Then Sarah A. Hoyt said...
Kate,
I've had stories that finish without my permission. I'm going along, towards a great, er... climax, and it's over... er... prematurely.

No innuendo there, nope, none at all. :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Gary,

Nevah! :D

Remember that one definition of fiction writer is "one who lies for a living" though.