I have serious commitment issues when it comes to the ends of my stories.
There, I said it. I can start a story with the best of them. I can throw my characters into all manner of unsightly and unpleasant situations; I can make them love, hate, burst into tears, rage to the heavens or even sulk in a dark corner when warranted, but writing that final, climactic scene and resolving all their earthly (or unearthly, as the case may be) troubles often eludes me to the point of utter despair. I cannot even begin to count the number of unfinished stories I have languishing on my hard drive, characters poised mid-angst, begging for literary peace.
Instead of peace, I give them cold, hard abandonment. Weeks, months, years go by. I set a perfectly good plot aside, people and places I’ve invested metaphorical blood and sweat and tears in, and force myself to forget all about them. When all else fails (read: when I don’t have a professor breathing down my neck for a graded ending), I simply let my stories go, like birds longing to be free.
And I wait.
Until one day, completely out of the blue, the story will edge its way back into my thoughts. I might be looking for inspiration regarding a different story, or having a completely unrelated conversation that triggers a stray memory, or read a book with a character that reminds me of one of my own. However it happens, the seed is replanted, and there it sits, growing in the back of my mind, pushing against its boundaries until I am suitably nagged enough to pull it up on my computer. And that’s when the fun starts.
Have you ever gone back to a story you haven’t looked at in a while? Inevitably, one of three things happens (listed here, in order of increasing likelihood):
1) “Oh,” you say as you go through your piece, nodding your head in surprised satisfaction. “Well, this isn’t so bad at all. I can work with this. An edit here and there and I can just keep going right where I left off! This is great!”
2) “Oh dear,” you say as you go through your piece, shifting your eyes around to make sure no one else is in the room with you. “This…well, this is not completely unsalvageable. These pages will have to go, of course, and this entire chapter—I must have written this after that thing at that place with those people last year. But no, yeah, I can totally do this. Absolutely. The names are great. I won’t change those.”
3) “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD,” you cry to the heavens as you throw your hands helplessly in the air and lean as far away as you can get from the horrors on your computer screen. “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”
We’ve all been there—blinking at the words we know we must have written down, because the files and pages are most certainly ours, but how, how did those ideas ever make it past our mental editor and into the fabric of our story? Maybe this is why I have such trouble with the words “The End.” Because as a writer, I know that the first completed draft is really only the beginning, the tip of the revisional iceberg. And I worry that, for all my slaving away to get my characters through their trials and over that peak and across the finish line—what if I make it all the way back to the start only to find that the road, once smooth enough to traverse, has become the very quagmire we all fear our stories will turn out to be?