HOUSEKEEPING: Today starts the DSD Book Group discussion on FUN AND GAMES. Stop by and start your own thread or join an ongoing discussion.
By Steve Weddle
Holy Hell, am I tired of these pat endings in crime fiction -- particularly mysteries.
It's the resolution that bugs me. That little epilogue thrown up at the end where you get some Shakespearean double wedding and every loose end is tied up like a noose.
I should probably explain. I've been laid up with some sort of bubonic curse of a cold for a week (Don't you dare say "summer colds are the worst." I swear, I'm making a list and when I can stand upright for more that thirty seconds, everyone who has said that to me is going to get an elbow to the larynx.) I've had to forgo my normal self-medication routine of pills and Bushmills (Pills and Bushmills gimme the thrills and the chills, hoorah!!) and hand myself entirely over to Dr. Nyquil. So the incoherent rages that my psychiatrists and I have come to, what's the right word?, respect are now learning to fight their way through the five-times-a-day doses of doxylamine succinate. So, you know, bear with me.
As I mentioned on Joelle's post about focus, I've been working for months on a collection of stories. And I've decided that I don't like the way most stories end. See, they resolve. I'm thinking I hate that. You know, like you come to the end of this 5,000 word story and it's all pacing and tension and character development and then at the end you want to see the main character resolve the situation by Making The Bad Guys Pay or Finding The Lost Child. Or you learn who was pulling the strings. Or who was to blame for the banking disaster. Or you finally get the explanation for The Hero's Pain. It's like there's this feeling that everything must come to an end when you get to the last period. The reader must feel closure. The reader must know why things happened as they did.
Well, you know what? Fuck you. You don't get to know everything, asshole.
You don't get to see the hero get the girl. You don't get that closing that doubles back on something in the opening that ties it all together. Hell no. Sometimes the story just ends. You paid 99 cents for a collection and you're upset that a story didn't tie up everything like a shiny box of plastic crap on your tenth birthday? Too bad. Here's a nickel refund, champ.
Recently, when I twatted something about disliking pat endings, TommySalami linked up this great article on Chekhov's endings.
Here's the part I really dig:
Chekhov sometimes omits climaxes in order to make the reader have an epiphany his protagonist fails to have. A character may reach a “dead end,” in short, but the reader continues the journey in the character’s stead. I suspect that behind this kind of ending, which we find most frequently in Chekhov’s later work, is the belief that an epiphany is more powerful if the reader experiences it rather than merely witnesses it.Now, look. Comparing me as a writer to Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is like comparing, um, someone is who isn't so great at something to someone who fricking created the thing. (See what I mean. Totes QED and all, right?)
But I think that's what really bugs me the most. I mean, heck, I'm sure I've dug stories -- novels or shorts -- that tie everything up in a bow. Maybe it isn't a deal breaker. But where I think we start to fail as writers is when we forget that someone will be reading the story we're writing. I think it borders on a lack of respect for the reader, sort of saying "Here, let me explain this to you in small words." Maybe this works for some stories. Maybe some readers are idiots. Maybe they appreciate having everything handed to them so that they can close the book and think about how nice that was and then move on to mowing the yard or sorting coupons for Hamburger Helper.
But resolution is for sissies. The stories I'm really liking these days are those that are more open-ended, those that don't resolve that last chord.
I've been reading through THE NEW YORKER STORIES from Ann Beattie. She and Raymond Carver are often mentioned together as some sort of kindred souls. The endings of her stories are much like the various endings in Chekhov's. They end -- but they don't always resolve. And that is where the power lies. The reader isn't handed closure. The reader is more involved. More is asked of the reader when the ending is unresolved.
And, at the end of the page, that's what I want. I don't want a contained, compact experience that ends when I move on. I want a story that grabs hold of me for thousands of words, gnaws deeply into whatever is left of my soul, and won't let me move on. Anyone else?