On more than one occasion I’ve been told by readers that they read part of a book, sometimes a few chapters or sometimes half, then turn the book over and read the last page or last few pages. Then, decide whether the book is worth finishing based on the out of context mid or closing scene final page. As both an avid reader and writer this irks me. Endings are an important part of any story, a good ending ties up the loose ends; makes you cry; lament the loss of a reader – character bond; makes you smile with glee because the protagonist reigned supreme over the antagonist; or leaves you foaming at the mouth waiting for the next book in the series. Some endings do all of the above and some none, but each is important for every story.
As for beginnings, well, let us say I’ve never heard of someone finishing a story to then exclaim ‘that was the best beginning ever!’ Setting the scene, creating normality, establishing the voice and tone and, allowing the first taste of the people you’ll spend hours a day for the next month with, are all vital factors. With all of this considered it seems the beginning doesn’t get nearly enough recognition. While the perfect beginning climbs off the page and inflames your imagination. I’m at a total loss as to how to craft such a beginning then maintain its impression for 50 to 100 thousand words.
With the complexities of beginnings and the magic of endings in mind let us not forget the most important part. Nestled in between the beginning and end is the story. The character development, the twists and turns of the plot, the heart wrenching moments and the Mills and Boon style romances. In every book there is a world, there are lives and there are relationships. Writers are all too aware of the trials and tribulations of characterization and twisting plot lines. I have mountains comprised of never-to-be-finished manuscripts inches deep in cyber dust. And while a lot of readers will entertain a notion of the laborious nature of writing, there are certainly those that don’t quite understand the pain of the task.
Now, this is not a lament of any kind, but my own thoughts on why one skips pages or only reads the endings. Like most, I am guilty of reading the last page of a novel, this has resulted in intrigue and a direct shift of my attention back to page one (and a slight hint of disappoint when I arrive at the second to last page only to know what comes next). I’ve never based the worthiness of a novel on this practise. This could be based in being all too aware that each page is crafted to propel the story forward (I have never skipped a page either). I am both afraid I will miss something important and feel that the author of the work deserves each page be read if the novel is to be finished. All of that said, it is best one doesn’t look to the shelves of my bookcase which play home to the numerous books that will never be finished. Yet, not finishing a book and reading the ending or even skipping a page are much different things, a story in fast forward, at least to this writer, is the equivalent to fast forwarding life until days before the closure of your life’s novel.
The story is the essence of life, both fictional and human. Every word or action is about creating atmosphere and developing characters or motifs. Each page like each year of human life, shifts through time as the character stumbles through their world of fiction, and we stumble through our own world of reality. Opening a new book is always exciting and the furthest thing from my mind is how it will it end, what I really want to know, is how the characters get to their destinations and why. To continue with the life analogy, if we apply skipping through a novel or reading the last page, then you are effectively spending your life skipping forward until the coffin lid’s closed. If we are born, then attempt to start at the end, we will miss the best parts of life.
A novel is the same, we must begin on page one and end on the last. Otherwise we miss the best parts. The stories held within the covers allow people to explore themselves through the character, explore society or consider the ideas that the author presents while experiencing them vicariously. Reading Poe is the equivalent to exploring your worst nightmare and the darkness that exists within each human. A venture that not every person wants to undertake through a deep examination of themselves.
As a writer, I live for the story, not its beginning nor its end. But for its telling and its reading. When the characters shift from being in your head to being on the page where they take a form of their own and grow in the manner they choose. The story process starts by laying out a piece of yourself on a page for the world to enjoy or scrutinize. The story its self is exploring that piece of your soul, answering questions and discovering questions with no answers. The characters we use can be employed as representative forms of a person’s demons or their dreams. The coveted all important ending seals that piece of your soul off, stops something else from dripping through and preserves the art in state until the next thing breaks the surface of placidity.
Perhaps writers are insane and the story allows us to function. Perhaps knowing stories allows a different perspective into the story and its world. Yet, as I write this ending, I leave my questions unanswered. Still unaware exactly why people read books for their endings and not for their story. While the ending is important it may show where someone ends up but it effectively shows nothing more. Or is there an element that I’m blind to? Do endings not exist because everything must eventually end, but because they provide the story with its true meaning? For me at least, the perfect ending is still out of grasp. However, as a writer, if I am judged by and survive on the power of an out of context ending, then I shall allocate my novel manuscript and current ream of drafts to the back room of my expansive cyber cabinet and will from this point forth write endings with no beginnings.