I'm not a pre-plotter, except when I write short stories.
(I've always found short stories require a discipline and focus that is singular. My problem is my love of subplots and characters who show me they have layers I want to peel back and I get distracted. I can indulge that sometimes in a novel, but I have to use the Star Wars approach to short fiction.
"Stay on target."
"But the tie fighers..."
"Stay on target.")
Although I don't always have the ending carved out in stone, what I have are ideas. They may tie to the book's theme or they may involve the specific outcome for one character. As the manuscript evolves the ending takes shape.
Now, the more I do this, the more advanced plotting I do. I have a longer list of things that I know will come up in the story. This is because I now think thematically and topically about the story before I'm writing and I also think about specific character arcs. I don't consider anything set in stone. If something isn't working I'll change it.
But I have ideas.
Recently, I was taking to Mindy Tarquini, who is far more of an advanced plotter than I am, and I came away from our chat thinking about subverting reader expectations by shifting away from what the reader expects.
There can be something really, genuinely wonderful about delivering what people want, but there's a fine line between fulfilling a long-term arc and offering resolution and being boring and predictable.
I've thought about endings a lot lately, because of the conclusion of The Americans. After 6 years of investing in these characters I wondered how they would resolve things. We speculated about potential character deaths. We talked about witness protection and escaping to a beach somewhere. And even after the penultimate episode I was baffled by how they were going to wrap everything up.
And then that finale.
You know you've knocked it out of the park when people are still talking about it days later. And they are. Friends on Facebook that I didn't even know were watching the show are still posting thoughts. People on Twitter are still talking about it.
I'm still thinking about it.
I've said many times already that none of the things I thought might happen did, and yet it was remarkably gut-wrenching and heart-breaking perfection.
Yes, I'm prepared to call it that. Because it addressed what needed to be addressed. It left the viewer to make up their own minds about some other things. And it delivered an emotional impact that was absolutely shocking.
I'm a bit of an oddity. We stream everything... except we bought our episodes of The Americans each season so that we only had to wait a day to see it. So, on the night an episode airs I'll got on Twitter and see what the buzz is like.
That last episode there was one thing I knew from Twitter. The finale was devastating.
They pulled that off without ever pulling the trigger of a gun.
There are things worse than death.
After watching that episode I will think about my endings and I will think about the emotional impact of those endings. And I will think of The Americans, the dark sister of the crime TV world that never really got the recognition it deserved for some of the questions it raised. How far would you go to serve your country? How do you deal with your children being influenced by ideological ideas you don't agree with? How do you cope with being raped and victimized? How do you have an honest relationship when you're not even who you say you are? How do you cope with the loneliness? What about losing family (Elizabeth's mother, Philip's other son)?
How do you live this life and stay true to yourself and who you are?
There's so much subtext in this show and the ending underscored it all. And, for me, it took a series that was strong and solid and typically ranged from a B (season 5) to an A or A- (seasons 1, 2, 3, 4) from season to season and made it be an A++ overall with perhaps the best series finale of all time.