School is out linkdump – and a riff on endings

Today was the last day of school before the winter holiday and therefore the last day of school for this year. I watched The Sarah Jane Adventures with my fifth graders, who thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Lots of discussion both about the plot and the Slitheen attempting to destroy the world as well as about all sorts of cultural details regarding school uniforms, food, etc… I hadn’t watched the show in a while and I had forgotten how nicely made it was. And of course, it is ideal for this very young age group.

And now for some links:

In case you haven’t seen it yet, I have a new post up at the Pegasus Pulp blog about some good news for European writers and readers.

Chuck Wendig talks about the perils of branding for a writer. I very much hate the whole idea of “writer as brand”, so I very much agree with this post. Including with the bit about diversifying from the beginning. That’s why Pegasus Pulp books are in a variety of genres with more to come.

British writer T.S. Sharp has an interesting post on endings and national preferences. I don’t know if there’s a German preference for certain types of endings, though I suspect that Germans tend towards the neatly tied up ending, though those endings are not necessarily happy. Still, even the really depressing “issue films” on TV, where everything is grey and the plot is loosely based on some newspaper article about some contemporary problem the author read two years ago, usually have a proper ending.

I’ve been thinking about endings lately, since I’ve been burned once too often by unsatisfying endings. I don’t mind unhappy or bleak endings, indeed I recently read and enjoyed Nineteen Seventy-Four by David Peace, which ended as bleak as can be with pretty much everybody dead. And it was only the first in a quartet, so I strongly expect the other books will be equally bleak. Yet I still went out and bought the entire series on the strength of the first book, though I can’t read them all at once, I have to break them up with romances or something similarly non-depressing in between.

So I don’t mind bleak or depressing endings, as long as they make sense for the story. However, I really hate the type of ending where a main character in randomly killed off in the last chapter/last episode, not because it makes any sense for the plot, but just for shock value and because the author can. Cold Mountain did this, Prison Break did it, Spooks did it, Lost did it (only that hardly anybody was watching till the end and no one could stand the character who died anyway), Ashes to Ashes did it, sort of (It’s complicated)*. I wasn’t happy with the Ashes to Ashes ending, but at least it fits the story and indeed the hints have been placed throughout. Coincidentally, this is the only one that has any rewatching value for me. Though Spooks at least wasn’t unexpected, considering that Spooks killed off pretty much the entire regular cast anyway. I still don’t think they needed to kill yet another regular character in the final episode – why couldn’t the surviving characters be happy after all they had been through? Ditto for Prison Break, only that that ending was even worse, because it undermined the whole underlying theme of the show (which had been an unholy mess post season 1 anyway that I only watched because I liked some of the characters). If only they’d ended it five minutes and one stupid, tacked on ninety minute movie early – then it would have been perfect.

So in short, have an ending, whether happy or not, that fits your story and for all that’s holy, don’t let the ending undermine your own story with unreasonable happiness or out of the blue surprise deaths.

Was thriller author Robert Ludlum murdered? Of course, the author is the article is biased, since he is Ludlum’s nephew. Still an interesting story though.

*Interestingly, all but one of my examples are TV shows, probably because TV shows are harder to end well (though there are some that did).

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2 Responses to School is out linkdump – and a riff on endings

  1. Tom Sharp says:

    Hey Cora,

    Thanks for the mention, and great blog by the way. I’d be interested to know about how German writers deal with endings, and I suppose if you go with national stereotypes the neat ending would befit German writers 😉

    As for killing of a character in the final act, the novel I’m editing at the moment has that exact ending, so I fall foul of that I’m afraid!

    • Cora says:

      In general German writers tend to prefer endings that are not necessarily happy (indeed, they’re not happy most of the time) but neatly tied up. Werther commits suicide, Faust goes to hell, the protagonist of All Quiet on the Western Front is shot on a day when the western front was deemed quiet, the Captain of Köpenick from Gerhard Hauptmann’s play explains exactly why he did what he did, Oscar from The Tin Drum ends up in an insane asylum for a murder he did not commit (but the reader learns exactly who did it and how), even though the characters don’t know who committed the bloody murders in Andrea Maria Schenkel’s Tannöd a.k.a. Murder Farm, the reader can piece the truth together, etc… Romances, crime fiction, etc… have neat and generally happy endings anyway. So Germans prefer the endings fairly neat, even if they are not necessarily happy. And yes, that does confirm to certain national stereotypes.

      And I don’t necessarily mind killing off characters in the final act, I only mind when there is no real narrative reason for it and it’s only done for shock value.

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