I don’t like endings. I rarely go to funerals and whenever I leave someone’s presence, I frequently say, “See you later” rather than “Goodbye”. Equally, I never joke about death or dying. The comedian, Dick Shawn, is said to have ended his act by feigning a heart attack to avoid encores. When he suffered a fatal heart attack during a performance, the audience thought he was joking and delayed assisting him.
Writing endings to stories or essays is often the toughest part for me. When I was nearing the end of my first novel, The Longtimers, I wanted to do an elaborate wrap up of all that went on before, but the book ended up being over six hundred pages, which was a lot to summarize. I finally settled on a simple ending which briefly summed up the main character’s story in an open ended manner. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
Essays are often the toughest for me to end. There’s always a need to wrap things up and such endings often sound contrived to me. In writing classes in high school and college, we were told to restate the main points in wrapping up a research paper, and, to some extent, I follow that pattern. At the very least, I usually sum up what I’ve been trying to say. The times I’ve diverged from this pattern weren’t disasters, though, so, in the final analysis, it’s another instance of whatever works.
Recently, my writing projects have been focused on what I call The Expanded Universe of Fictional Atlanta, set in my hometown over the past few decades. Many of the same faces show up time and again. Endings for these works haven’t been terribly difficult, primarily because I know it isn’t actually the end of the story. I think of it as a massive jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered across multiple times and locations, waiting for the reader to discover and assemble them. Segments can appear in novels, story collections, or plays, and I’m experimenting with narrative elements, telling the story through news articles, talk show transcripts, internal monologues, and dialogue.
While I don’t yet know where the overall story will end, it all began in the late-nineties, with a book I started writing called Boom Town. It was about a low-level tech support person named David Cairo (pronounced like the Georgia town) who created an Internet startup and took it public, becoming a billionaire. The main character’s story was loosely based on the rise of Ted Turner in the seventies as he was building Turner Communications and CNN, though the character’s personality was closer to my own. He’s reasserted himself in my current work and I’m planning on reviving his story, though much differently than I originally envisioned.
Even characters who die in my work don’t entirely leave the scene. Reincarnation, genetic lookalikes, and shared personality traits come into play quite a bit. One character, Alyssa Caine, has a photographic memory, and is fond of saying that no one dies as long as someone remembers the person. I use darkness to indicate the final ending and light to refer to the beginning of a new life, and if someone goes into a coma, that person simply fades, versus descending into absolute darkness.
Some of my attitude about endings is tied to my hometown. Atlanta is a very transitional town and locations don’t stick around very long. I learned not to become attached to any business or building because it might not be there the next time I visit. In my lifetime, several major sporting arenas were built and demolished, leaving very little to fuel my memories. Hardly any trace remains from the Olympics in 1996. A major exception is the old Sears warehouse on Ponce, which became City Hall East and is now known as the Ponce City Market. It is, by far, the most resilient location in Atlanta. Rio Mall wasn’t so lucky, rising, then disappearing completely within a decade.
Every ending is a new beginning, though, even for stories that conclude on the last page. Each narrative ending should provide, not just a sense of finality, but curiosity about what comes next. I’ve found that the best stories always leave the reader wanting more.