My name is Rosalind Guy and I struggle with writing endings. (insert deep exhale here) There! I finally am able to admit it.
I’m not the type of writer who strictly adheres to an outline, either for my short stories or novels, so a lot of times I start on a writing journey with no clear sense of where I will end up.
I always begin a story with an image, a line or a character that makes such an impression on me that it becomes ingrained on my brain. Those are the stories I know I must write. But, honestly, I hardly ever know what the end destination will be. Quite honestly, that’s part of the joy of writing for me, wondering where I and my characters will end up.
I’ve been struggling with the ending for a short story I’m currently working on. The story, Mama B, is a piece I’ve been working on for many, many years. It’s undergone several transformations over the years. Now, that I have finally deemed the story in its final phase, I’m struggling with bringing the story to a natural close. I wanted the story to come to a natural ending, which, I guess, may not necessarily be realistic.
Lying in bed, this morning, thinking about the story’s ending, I, for some reason, began to compare it to the ending of a book I recently read by Nicholas Sparks. I began to question whether the ending scenes in his book were realistic or a creature of a different breed. It seems, sometimes, that Sparks chooses the bloodiest collision course for the characters in his stories. Meaning there’s no happily ever after. No predetermined format whereby two people meet, deal with a problem, realize they can’t live without one another and then choose to live happily ever after. Nope. If that’s what you’re looking for, you definitely don’t want a Nicholas Sparks story. In fact, that book, The Best of Me, infuriated me, made me want to incinerate it because I was so dissatisfied with the ending. (If I didn’t value books so much, I would’ve burned that book up!)
Still, this begs the question, should all stories/novels leave their readers feeling as unglued, as pissed off, as Sparks’ book left me feeling? Possibly.
That makes me believe I may need to revisit Mama B’s current ending. Maybe the sutures of that ending are too perfectly aligned. Maybe they’re so perfect, in fact, that no one will give them a second glance. And that’s certainly not the type of story I want to write.
I’ve read lots of books and lots of stories; some have remained with me, some I have forgotten as soon as I walked away from them. I don’t want to write forgettable fiction. I want to write stories that leave an indelible impression on the minds of my readers — much like the beginning kernels of the story does for me.
My path of reflection in bed this morning didn’t end there. I also thought about the book I’m reading and thoroughly enjoying. It’s wonderful to journey back through history through the eyes of Pearl Cleage. I’m reading Cleage’s autobiography Things I Should Have Told My Daughter. Something that struck me as I’ve been reading it is the character analysis or just her thought process, where she analyzes the most random people or situations. For example, this guy who sits down beside her at the bus stop. Her description of him makes it painfully obvious that she does not find him physically attractive, yet he asks for her phone number. When she declines, he tells her, “You don’t want to, but you kinda do, right?” Her analysis of that interaction is so real, so authentic. It ends with her wondering, …”what might have happened? C’est la vie!” I love it.
For some reason, as I’m contemplating this, I begin to understand that people do not always present their authentic selves to us. Perhaps it was the utter authenticity of the situation that helped me understand that or perhaps some other thing that helped me understand it, but, at that moment, I went ‘Eureka!’ I don’t think I wholly understood or acknowledged this fact before because, with me, what you see is what you get. And, you know, we perceive other people and life through a reflection of ourselves and our experiences? Well, with me, what you see is what you get. I’m really simple. If I say I love you, well, hell, I love you. If I say I don’t love you, I don’t. Doesn’t mean I hate you, but I don’t love you. My words stand for themselves. No unmasking is necessary. If I say I support you, well, dammit, let go and depend on me because “I got you!” That is one of the things that I have come to despise about some of the people I have met, that they play games with people and wear masks that seem almost to blend in perfectly with their face and you’re hardly able to discern that they’re wearing it until it’s too late. I cannot stand dealing with people who are unable or unwilling to present their true selves and motives to you so that you can tell exactly what you’re accepting into your life. Everyone has an ulterior motive for the things they say and do, it seems.
Aha! In order for my characters to be memorable, they need to have layers and hidden motives. In concept, I was aware of this, but it took experiencing it as a life lesson to really know it.
No one remembers the woman who truly loves and cares about those around her. (Well, unless it’s Dr. Maya Angelou) No. They remember the woman who manipulates and deceives to get what she wants. Think Alexis Carrington or Victor Newman.
This provides validation for me. It is important for a creative artist to journal his or her experiences. An artist’s job is to hold up a mirror to the complexities of life and allow people to see themselves. And you can’t do that if every time the artist holds up the mirror, he only sees or shows him or herself.
Life’s a complex bitch. In my stories, I have to remember to show all different types of characters trying to manipulate this bitch called Life and show them trying to live the life they want to live. Of course, each character’s goal and perception will be different, but that’s where the conflict comes in, right? Right.
As, Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” But don’t stop there. Hell, write about it! There’s a gold mine of material to be found in the most difficult situations and the most difficult people.
Peace & Love,