Bringing It to a Close...Part 1

>> Monday, April 18, 2011

So. who did I scare?

I'm not talking about bringing this blog to a close, by the way, but wandering back to topic, i.e., writing. Not that I didn't think the talk on manga wasn't about writing, but it wasn't about novels per se and was focused on what both mangas and I tend to like best: characters.

In fact, I've spent an inordinate time speaking about characters, protagonists and villains and even side characters. But, as Relax Max pointed out (correctly) characters ain't enough. You're going to need a story. There's several pieces to the story: the premise, the plot, including climax and wind-down. How you introduce the story (and the characters) can make or break a novel/short story because many who might be interested in such things will stop reading quickly if the beginning doesn't grab their attention no matter how good your follow-through might be.

But, far too often I think, I find writers are lax with endings. Since I'm a backwards soul, I'm going to talk about that first. Partly because I'm contrary. Partly because I just had a distinct example.

[Spoilers here for Hana Kimi - if that's a manga you've been meaning to read and you don't want to know how it ends, stop here and come back after the "spoilers over" notice]

Pardon me for a moment as I temporarily allude back to manga. I recently read a series called Hana-Kimi, a long one (145 chapters, 23 volumes). Lovely characters, weak premise (as it frequently is), but amusing (not laugh out loud) and appealing. I wanted to know how they were going to pull it all together. I wanted to know what would happen to all these interesting people. I'm all geared to put this on my "must-have" list, put all the volumes on my wishlist for Amazon and then read the last handful of chapters.

Oh. Damn.

143 chapters of everyone working toward a single goal, allowing our heroine to stand side-by-side by her hero, no matter what. All of that was tossed away in chapter 144 for no discernible reason. True, our protagonists get "sort of" back together a year later (at least they're in the same country), but really, that was the only alternative? What was the point of the 143 chapters that came before? The dozens of friends and compatriots standing up for them? The many sacrifices made along the way? OK, it's a very Japanese ending, self-sacrifice in the face of support, but still. Everyone suffers. What were we all rooting for for so long?

And all the loose ends, those suffering from unrequited love or having the potential for all kinds of things (including winning national/international championships) left undone or unnoted. Even the MAIN characters are only promised to be promised three years after the original parting.

[End spoiler]

How frustrating!

Instead of me desperately trying to figure out how to justify buying 23 volumes of a manga when I've already bought so much, I'm quietly removing them from my wishlist. I no longer "have to have them" - now I'm not sure I want them at all.

Now, people can sell a lot of books that way, and not just manga. There are many series that have gone on forever, dragging on love stories or a plot arc over so many books that you wonder the author can remember what the characters look like. And, in all fairness, if you managed to capture an audience's interest for book after book without a real resolution, the temptation to continue to cash in on that notion has to be pretty high PLUS you could make an argument that, once you've gone to a certain length, no ending's going to be quite good enough to make your readers satisfied.

I suspect, in the case of some book series, some movie series and undoubtedly any number of manga, the end comes across as anti-climactic or unsatisfying because there's no ending good enough. Or worse, it comes to a close unexpectedly and they just don't have enough room to put it together properly.

But it can happen within in a single novel, too. Mickey Spillane said, "Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book." That's true of any book, in my opinion, not just mysteries.

A satisfying read means that, when you're done, you feel like things have been resolved sufficiently that the time you spent with these characters and in this story arc were well-spent. A bad ending can send even the best read into a tail-spin to crash and burn.

So, what do you need for a good ending? Good question. And one for the next post.


  • Jeff King

    I need a close/end to the book I was reading, a satisfying conclusion: happy or sad, action packed or not… I want a close to the story, or at least, the main story that particular book was centered around.

    The villain dies, or the goal the MC was striving for had been reached, save the world, or the girl, or kill the bad guy… whatever the case maybe, I need a solid… no hassle ending.

    Give me that and I’m happy…

  • Relax Max

    I still don't get this Mango stuff. Manga. Whatever. Mostly for drawing instead of story, right? So you can't be too critical of no ending. But, 144 chapters and no decent ending? They sure had the time if they had wanted to. Maybe the author never thought about an ending because he was only into character development. Maybe there was a tsunami and the author was interrupted. Maybe he just got it out of his system, finally, and lost interest, juices all used up. I'm glad you seem to be wanting to talk about real writing again.

    You have given me an idea about endings though. Thank you.

  • The Mother

    Even TV shows do the same thing. Will the main characters who are really in love but don't realize it ever get together? How many ways can we make them suffer? How many times do they almost kiss?

    But since that tension drives the show, they can't blow it and actually get them together. No fun in that.

  • Stephanie Barr

    That's what I'll be going into, Jeff. I truly believe each book should be able to stand alone with at least some measure of resolution. If you're just doing set up for the next one, it's a my opinion.

    For manga chapters or a TV series, that isn't necessarily so but anything can be dragged out too long.

    It felt rushed to me, Relax Max, but it could also have been a case where she needed a "tidy" ending and couldn't come up with anything good. Still disappointing. And I've seen this kind of ending before. I think it must be a Japanese thing - test by separation.

    Good point, The Mother. I don't watch TV any more so it didn't really hit me, but you have an excellent point. Remington Steele, a show I loved, did that for what seemed forever. The "ending" was weak and unsatisfying there, too. Carrying on tension indefinitely, though, is manipulative and ultimately frustrating. Eventually, I truly believe you should provide a satisfactory end or you're just a cheat.

    Of course, some shows never have the opportunity to reach a conclusion. In general, it seems to me that most shows don't really progress like you'd expect a novel or a good movie to.

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