Half-stories

I once heard an Inspirational Speech, given by a man who stood to profit from my labor. He had a good point, though. Everyone has ideas. Most people start things. Less than half make it halfway, and a tiny percent finish what they started. There is no place that is more true than in writing. It is easy to start a story, and damn hard to finish.

The other day I woke with the feeling I had a few stories languishing—thoughts with very strong beginnings, some even with middles, just waiting for an end. I did some housecleaning and found five stories more or less finished that I know could be better, five others I put in the newly-created ‘active’ pile, and some fifteen in the back burner folder. Most of those are good starts: excellent settings, fine prose, no destination.

And there, perhaps, is the difference between a beginning and an ending. Not that all prose must have a capital-p purpose, but it should have a direction. In the beginning was the word, and at the end was the period. Beyond the end is The Moment, the pause that as a writer you can only hope for, when the reader hesitates, still in the story, not yet ready to give up that world. All those images, characters, and whatnot are in the quest of delivering that one most rapturous pause, the finest hour, when the story is over but the narrative continues in the reader’s own language. We don’t write to last, we write to linger.

So, I have a collection of beginnings now. Many of them are pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. I read them and smile at my own prose, my own creativity (how did I ever come up with that?). Only problem is, a beginning isn’t worth the paper it’s wiped on.

When I chose this life, I had the Inspirational Speech in mind. I came to the game confident that I would be a finisher. I’m not done yet.

The episode is over. There’s nothing to see here. Move along.

Thoughts on the theme:

The first girl I was ever in love with—not just a crush but really live-or-die in love with, consumed. the girl who burned her way through my thoughts, the girl who tormented me even as I tormented her, the girl with the power to destroy me—I guarantee she’s more beautiful now that she was then (and she was mighty damn beautiful back then)—she was not a finisher. I knew that, but that’s not why we didn’t work out. We broke up because I was a dork. But in the end, I like to tell myself, we were doomed anyway, because she was a dabbler, a dilettante, not a finisher.

I wonder where she is, now. Probably much closer to finishing something than I am.

I think you never get completely over that first love. You will never match that hopeless mad passion again. You will never have the innocence of not having failed. You only have one shot at purity. Ever after, you are fallen, and the love you feel will have a peer. The next affair will, perhaps, surpass, but never again will there be pure, unmeasured, love. When you feel that giddy euphoria, you will remember that you have felt it before.

Meanwhile, Robert Jordan is a giant in the fantasy fiction world. Damn near a dozen books in, he has yet to write an ending, even though anyone with an IQ greater than six who has been willing to hang with The Series That Will Not Die already knows exactly what will happen. Robert Jordan sucks. Stop buying his books until he comes up with an ending for once in his life, and cuts his page count in half.

William Gibson finally got off his ass and wrote a good book. If only they had forgotten to print the last chapter. In the business world they call it ‘selling past the close’; here I will call it ‘writing past the end’. He should learn from the Japanese so prevalent in his stories. He should recall Neuromancer. Still, it’s his best book in a long time. Cayce Pollard is my kind of hero. Gibson, however, seems to be suffering from the same malady I have (elevation by association?) – good setups, a search for a conclusion. I, however (elevation against a straw man?) don’t try to publish my stories with weak endings. To be fair, it’s easy for me to talk, down here, about one of my favorite writers. The dude’s pretty good. Effinger’s better, but he’s dead.

I watched an anime series recently – I won’t name it because I don’t want to spoil it for you – but at the end I just sat for quite a while. “Dang,” I said, more than once. “Wow.” I took a few deep breaths. This series was made for Japanese television and there is no way it would ever have been made in the US. It ended with two people dying, one literally, the other figuratively, sacrifices to something evil they had unwittingly supported, helpless, linked by a pair of tears and infinite regret, both meeting the most horrible fate they can imagine. Only one has the luxury of death; the other has a job to do. It was an ending, the death of all we had known before, but it was also a beginning. That’s fair, as long as there is that moment of reflection. For me, that moment stretched for hours.

Speaking of James Bond, the bad guy lying in a pool of blood is not an ending, even if his laboratory of evil (LOE) explodes.

In a crossover meditation, Mission Impossible, the television series, despite the constraint that each episode was a complete and interchangeable story, managed to come up with some of the best endings ever on television. No blood, just the bad guy having a moment when he knows he is well and truly screwed.

So where are we? So many stories undertold, overtold, retold, better left untold. Unfinished. My job is to chase down a couple of those endings, wrassle them to the dirt, and make them work for a living.

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