Sunday, April 26, 2015

Death Is Easy, Endings Are Difficult

Beginnings can be troublesome.  You have to get someone recognizable in a face-to-face confrontation with a decision or a notable lack of patience, driving that person over the edge of patience.  

Problematic as beginnings can be, they are still easy in comparison to middles, where, once again, a number of details must appear to be raining down on that protagonist someone, closing alleyways of potential escape, alienating possible allies, and without any notion of doing so, causing others to step forth in opposition.  

Somewhere, wired into the human condition, was an awareness of these beginnings and middles of story that observers from the more distant past, such as Aristotle, could see and classify these paths for story to take.  

Writing in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen could write all she wished about how "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," because she knew it was no such thing, therefore readers of her time were already intrigued to see the mischief that came from the resulting irony.

The real truth is that the sooner a beginning comes to terms with such mischief of logic and attitude, the more likely we are to settle in to watch the mischief we have been hard-wired to accept, well before the times when neurologists and structural engineers even had the vision much less the vocabulary for being hard wired.  

We don't want explanations for the beginning, not yet.  Not until we see it in action and we are able to see the additional effects the beginning has on the person who causes it or on whom it is afflicted.

The Book of Job has a shrewd enough beginning, in that two seeming peers are discussing an individual who has yet to make his appearance.  One of the peers may merely be confident of his own powers, or he may be leaning toward hubris.  Whatever we think, we are inclined to believe Job is about as in for it as any character we've read of before or after.  Even if you do not like the genre, you are aware that Job is on his way to some serious trial and tribulation.

The ideal spot for the middle is the place where the character from the beginning becomes aware that things would have a difficult time being worse.  By now, he'll have experienced considerable loss, not the least of which is his confidence.  The onion of his being is peeled.  We see the layers of ego, tossed aside like the used condoms we stumble upon from time to time in places  individuals before us have considered romantic enough to commemorate it.

The place or position has been given the name Rock Bottom, also a possible candidate for hard-wiring because it is almost as if we know with inner certainty that what seems at first like the Rock Bottom elevator has a basement level to it.  When that comes, we are at the middle or, as you enjoy calling it, The Muddle.

Shrewd writers understand that they must use their ingenuity to make the middle profound.  The slightest hint of holding back will cause an editor to put the manuscript down, the reader to toss the book aside.

There you are, at the middle ground, arrived at a state that took you beyond your own comfort zone, all in the service of providing a provocative and plausible answer from your own library of events that came after you thought you were at Rock Bottom.

From this, you hope to construct an ending that represents some kind of plausible way out of Rock Bottom and to some semblance of a higher floor.  Can't be too high, lest the reader feel the ending is manipulated in the service of some philosophical jargon or outright impossibility.

You like the concept of the negotiated settlement a character makes with The Cosmos, The Fates, or whatever way of looking at those two conniving forces in The Book of Job.  Certainly not Job, himself, although it would be a challenge to do a sequel in which he is the protagonist.  He'd have a good deal to answer for from at least two opposing points of view about his behavior in Book One.

Endings are challenges for individuals in all strata of life, bringing questions at every turn.  Is the character who achieves in exact measure the pursued goal assured of happiness or even moments of comfort or satisfaction?  Jack London came close to expressing the problem, as you see it, in his short story, "A Loss of Face," which has the ironic ending of the protagonist, by his own guile and shrewdness, being beheaded by a sharp axe, rather than being flayed and tortured.  And his executioner is, in the process, revealed as having been taken by the protagonist.

The difficulty with endings may well be the reason why you are so fond of the short story, where, by your vision, the ending is not the solution to a problem as much as it is the revelation of one.

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