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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dangerous Territory

I'm about to step into it.

This week we are talking about endings and how to do them well. Hopefully you've found some that you want to share with us this week. I think the best way to do it is for you to email me the title of the book and why the ending worked for you. Don't worry about spoilers too much, be honest and detailed with what worked for you. (unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with Endings in the subject line)

Today I want to talk about what NOT to do. Please don't stone me when I'm done.

Tolkien managed to get away with something we will never be allowed to do. Ever.

He wrote 100 more pages of story after the climax of The Return of the King.

Stay with me a minute. The ring is destroyed on page 250 of my paperback copy. Sam and Frodo are reunited with all their friends on page 255. Said friends have just finished a mighty battle a page before that sees the orcs running away.

At this point, all the tension has been released. There is nothing else for us to worry about. Not really. However Tolkien spends another 92 pages getting our heroes back home, cleaning up said home from the riff raff that's taken over, and then getting the elves, Bilbo, and Frodo on the boats to the west.

Now, I LOVE Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, but as a writer today, I don't have the luxury of spending 90 some odd pages to tie up all the threads and bring the story to a complete end. I wish I could. It's in my head, but the reader gets bored once the conflict is over. I admit I got a little bored after the war was over myself.

The moral here is:
If you are J.R.R. Tolkien, you can do whatever you want.
But you are NOT Tolkien.
And neither am I.

Normal folks like us would need to end the story by page 260.

Thoughts? Am I completely off my rocker?


L. Blankenship said...

I'll stand up and be stoned with you... yes, the ending was much too long. And for that matter the beginning of the series is a problem, too. It took HOW long to get to Rivendell? And what did the trip have to do with the plot?

Despite that, the story is so great that we all love it anyways. And no, you should never rely on one aspect of your writing being so great that readers will forgive the rest -- we're not Tolkein or any of the masters.

Charity Bradford said...

I had totally blocked out the beginning of the Fellowship. Yes, all that time in the barrows and with Tom Bombadilo (is that right?) did take a long time and seems pointless now that I look back.

*sigh* oh to have the reverence that Tolkein has though. To be that brilliant with world building and languages...

Matthew MacNish said...

This is a symptom of our modern, instant gratification society. Personally, I love longer books. Books that take time to build, and books that go on for a bit after the denouement. But you're right, LOTR would never get published today, not without being severely cut.

Tara Tyler said...

totally agree! i love a happy wrap up, but it went on and on and on. watching the movie was even dragged out!

and i get what matthew says, too. we are told our stories must with a bang! begin with action or in the middle of something & get to know the characters later. my son likes to skip the first chapter or 2 to get to the good parts!

stu said...

It depends on what you see as the story arc of LOTR. I'd argue that the main character growth of Frodo, Sam etc is the big thing, and that without at least some extra stuff, we don't see that. So they completed a quest. That's meaningless if it doesn't change them. Take Neil Gaiman's Stardust. The MC learning who he is and completing the big quest is one thing, but it only becomes meaningful on a character level once he goes home again and rejects his original intentions in undertaking it (to marry the girl he was fetching the star for). There's a danger in ending on a bang that we end without the story truly complete.

Charity Bradford said...

You make an excellent point here that I agree with. I wish we could spend more time developing our worlds and characters at the beginning instead of jumping right in. It would make it easier for people to like my MC for sure, however we are slaves to the industry whether we want to be or not.

Charity Bradford said...

That's funny he skips the beginning. Maybe we shouldn't stress over them so much. ;)

Charity Bradford said...

Another excellent point, Stu, and great second example to back it up. Character development or completion of the story arc should be just as important as the action.

Like I said, I read every word of those 92 pages, but in the fast paced world we live in, a lot of readers don't want to invest time after the big scenes are over.

It really is a shame. I could write some lovely wordy endings. ;)

Huntress said...

(Warning! I’m about to go all Charlton Heston on your *case*)
K. That should do it.

Books today are like some TV producers; they believe in a formula. Parents have drinking/gambling/narcotic problems and kids rebel in stereotypical manner. Dominoes fall as they solve crisis after crisis in their allotted time slot.

If I can predict the conflict/resolution then they’ve lost me. In this category of eagerly anticipated shows: Falling Skies, The Secret Circle, Once Upon a Time, and Terra Nova.

Too often book publishers want the same thing, the safe formula, dominoes that fall into place. For me a book must have layers. Foreshadowing, doled out with a fine hand. Questions that goes unanswered right away. Backstory that makes me want to discover more.

The story of Bombadil, in other words.

The ending of LOTR is perfect for me. Sad, sweet. Friendship the binds and partings.

Maybe if I hadn’t read it some forty years ago in high school. Maybe if I had read it only recently I’d feel different.

Charity Bradford said...

Ah the formula!

I've noticed that science fiction has changed too. The guys I grew up reading took more time at the beginning to introduce characters, build the world, and set up the technology involved. Nowdays we are often just tossed in and left to flounder our way through the first few chapters.

L. Blankenship said...

Then again, nowadays we can assume that our readers don't need FTL drives, blasters, and cloning explained to them. SF has permeated the culture -- heck, it's in our pockets now.

And in response to the idea that modern readers are all about instant gratification: the Wheel of Time series.

Misha Gericke said...

So true. I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the last 100 pages. On the one hand, I like knowing what happened after what I consider to be the end. On the other hand, I don't like that I had to read through all the stuff after I got all the way to the climactic scene. :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree with you. I read the whole thing once, but on my subsequent re-reads, I don't think I ever read those last pages again. I actually feel the same way about the movies. While I put both the movies and the books at the top of my LOVE list, I really wish they'd ended better :)

mshatch said...

I agree that modern readers are far too impatient, annoyingly so in my opinion. And while I agree in part with you that LOTR more or less ended when the "quest" was completed, I for one am so glad I was able to read the real end, before it got cut and I never knew what happened to everyone. I loved how Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin went home and kicked ass, especially Saruman's ass not to mention his little wormy friend. And I loved how Frodo left the Shire and sailed away with elves, because truthfully, that's exactly what should've happened. And yes, the whole side trip with Tom Bombadil was completely unnecessary, but c'mon, who didn't enjoy it? Who didn't love how the the ring, The One Ring, had no power over Tom Bombadil?

And yes, if Tolkien tried to publish today LOTR would've been cut to bits (and maybe possibly ended up as two books) but I for one am glad to have read it in its entirety and in it's original form.

Huntress said...

Sidebar: The movies were a travesty. A barf-o-rama.

*can of worms opening*

mshatch said...

I respectfully disagree. I thought peter Jackson did a tremendous job of bringing the books to the screen; he left out the Tom Bombadil side trip and he ended it where most people agree it needed to be ended. My only complaint was that scene on the steps of Cirith Ungol when Frodo sent Sam away believing he had betrayed him WHICH NEVER HAPPENED!!!

Huntress said...

Elijah Woods/Frodo never passed up a chance to 'die'. Emo, anyone?!

*love this discussion, btw*

Carol Riggs said...

Yes, I agree. And even if a plot doesn't tie up until later, what's up with the excruciatingly looooong novels published these days? Honestly, like 450+ pages, especially for the fantasy and paranormal genres. It makes me weary of reading a book even before I begin. :)