Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Do the Endings Justify the Meanness?

ending--the point at which a dramatic narrative delivers its payoff emotion; characters in a story being led from a precipitous brink to a more comfortable landing spot; the arrival at an offered solution to the major dramatic issue.

As in all events where humans are involved, story endings are at best temporary because one or more of the characters involved will quickly become caught up in another strand of activity--even if it is only a return to some old conviction, habit, or pattern, where a new chapter will begin. Ending is a sense that things are over for the moment. At the final curtain of Hamlet, with so many of the dramatis personae dead, only Fortinbras and Horatio are left to deal with the energy of the previous activities, but just as playwright Tom Stoppard saw possibilities for a spin-off in which Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern had their own show, Horatio could challenge Fortinbras after his final tribute to Hamlet, working himself up to wonder why Fortinbras hadn't done anything sooner, to which Fortinbras could have wondered a similar wonder to Horatio, whereupon the two would get into the exchange of blows and a sequel to Hamlet would have been in the making. Huck Finn could have done quite nicely in the territory ahead, but Tom Sawyer, fed up with the heavy responsibilities of family life, civic affiliations, and the weight of The Social Contract heavy on his shoulders, could have come looking for Huck and, once again, became caught up in Huck's life style.

Endings are a sign to the reader that things are over for now--not necessarily solved, but done until the next defining moment settles upon the characters.

Reminder: not ending soon enough may produce anticlimax.


layer--a stratum or single element manifest within a story; a subplot, thematic, or character-related motif found in a dramatic narrative.

Stories, even shorter ones, tend to have more than one layer of activity accompanying the main thrust of the story, perhaps extending to a remote past or possibly not quite as recent as the present moment. Layering often takes form in the interaction between two or more characters, relying on attitudes related to past experience or experiences between them. Results from conflicting or disappointed expectations among characters may also add layers of complexity to a narrative.

The conventional wisdom for layering holds each tier responsible for some enhancement of story line (plot), character development, subtext, or an enhancement of theme.

Thus may a story be seen as an archaeological dig in which the reader discovers more about the individuals involved in the narrative, their social make-up, artifacts, and attitudes as each layer is excavated. In general, plot-driven stories tend to have fewer layers than literary, but as with all generalities related to story, the writer must take care not to be driven by them to the point where imagination and inventiveness are overridden.

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