The concept of ‘The Ending’ is something that is kind of a big deal for a lot of fiction writers, I imagine. Poets too, most probably. Script writers as well. Heck, it’s probably something that no writer approaches lightly.
It’s the conclusion. The statement. The end. It’s that taste left in the mouth of the reader, the thought they’re left with, the place you’ve taken them too and then deserted them. It has a massive impact on their final conclusions about the story. So, yeah…a big deal.
For me, when ending a piece of fiction, whether writing or reading it doesn’t need to be all tied up tight and neat. It doesn’t even need to have answered all the questions. But it does need to have some sort of conclusion. There has to be a reason for the story to have ended at that point.
So that’s what I try to do when writing. I try to give closure. I try to reach the point that I set out to reach when I started writing and not stumble to a halt a few feet before or after I reach it, whatever sort of point it might be.
Today I have made myself consider something which I find to be a rather sticky wicket. The sought-after ‘happy ending’.
We like them. Don’t deny it. They can be contrived or daft or sappy, but when it comes to it, the bits of us that read or watch movies etc for escapism (and we all have that bit in us, I believe, no matter how refined, educated or experienced we might feel we are), we like to believe that, sometimes, it all turned out ok. It’s part of the reason we chose fiction as an alternative to reality.
When we’re in that sort of mood, of course. Our Disney mood. Our Terminal mood. Even the most hardcore cynics and malcontents among us still enjoy a happy ending now and again.
I know I do, at least.
But here’s the rub: I hate writing them. Read some of my fiction and you’ll see. There’s conclusions to every one in some form, I hope. And maybe there are a couple of exceptions, where there’s a glimmer of hope or the chance of characters moving on to something better or different but I wouldn’t say any of it had a signed-and-sealed ‘happy ending’. But then I don’t think any of these stories needed one. They ended as they were supposed to end. The ended at the point where the story had come full circle, whatever progress of pointed lack of the characters may have made.
Plus I like to write about the dark, the disturbed, the weird and the wonderful, the kind of other-worldly and under-stairsy parts of ourselves that would look at a happy ending and just go… “Huh? Who invited you?”
So, I know a happy ending isn’t always needed or, indeed, necessary. But just for the sake of the exercise, because it’s always good to try something new, because happy endings are so sought-after by unconscious parts of most readers, I have had a go at something positive. Something that concludes in a better place than where it started. Something with hope but without the reader going “Where the chuff did that come from?” and/or vomiting.
I hope, above all, that you enjoy 🙂
And, true to form, it is suitably seasonal for those in the mood.
“Come on now, Hayley. Where would Guy Fawkes be today with that attitude?”
“Well, still very dead. But perhaps by a few years fewer.”
“Ok, ok,” Sara muttered, shoving her gloved hands deeper into her pockets. “So maybe that was a bad example. But the principle’s still sound.”
“Freedom,” Sara said with a grin. “From oppression. From tyranny.”
“Geoff wasn’t a tyrant.”
Sara barked a laugh in reply. “No offence, but you suck at choosing men. And bosses too for that matter.”
“He’ll be expecting that uniform back – ”
“Look,” Sara took a grip of her by the elbows and looked her right in the eye. “You said you’d let me help you.”
“I meant just giving me somewhere to crash…”
“And I gave you that, right? So do this for me in return. Trust me. It will feel better.”
Hayley bit her lip and tried to see over the heads of the crowd to the pile of stacked wood. The air was filled with misting breath and excited chatter. In the light from the toffee apple and mulled cider stalls she could see smiles on everyone’s faces. Sparklers trailed lightening through the air, leaving red trails on the inside of her eyelids. Festivity was woven through the atmosphere like the smell of warmed spice but all Hayley could think about was the box they’d hidden at the base of the bonfire.
Even now she could see the gap in the wood where they’d shoved it in.
“It’s going to be ok, you’ll see,” Sara said, voice a little softer than before.
Hayley didn’t look at her but swallowed against a tightness in her throat. “Is it not just a little extreme?”
“That’s the whole point.” Hayley did look at her then. All trace of her sister’s easy grin was gone and she had that earnest look she wore when she was knew she was right. “Look, Hay, it’s just stuff, right?”
“Borrowed stuff,” Hayley muttered and Sara shook her head.
“No more excuses.”
“It’s not an excuse.”
“Yes it is,” Sara said, leaning in again. “You have a reason not to part with every single bit of that stuff. But all of it, the pictures, the clothes, the ring…you need to let it go. Not only that, you need to see it go.”
A cheer interrupted her as a man with a flaming brand climbed over the wire and made his was toward the ten-foot wooden pyre. The man waved and people cheered again, sparklers slicing yet more energetic circles in the night.
“Sara, if we’re quick – ”
“No,” her sister replied, grabbing hold of her elbow hard enough to hurt. “This is what you’re doing for me, Hayley. You’re watching it burn. You’re watching it go. Then I’ll believe you when you tell me you’re moving on.”
“I’m fine. Haven’t I told you a million times that I’m fine?”
“Yes and I’ve not believed you once. Now shut up and watch.”
Hayley swallowed again. A chill breeze picked up, bringing with it the coppery smell of dead sparklers mixed with toffee and smoke. The fire was touched to the kindling around the base of the wood. The light grew as the flames took hold and began to crackle. Smoke wafted through the air, thick as autumn mist and collecting at the back of her throat, tasting almost sweet.
It took her straight back to being a child still small enough to need to clutch at her father’s hand whilst pressing the other one to her ear against the bang of the fireworks. She remembered Sara at her side, pretending to jump at every bang, screaming with delight but not being able to tear her eyes away from the shimmering rainbows burning against the sky.
The heat of the fire hit her all at once, flushing her cheeks and bringing her back to the present with a crackle and a pop. Children and adults all cheered. She took a frozen moment to consider how long it had been since she had felt that carefree, but shook it away.
She squinted and could make out the shape of her shoe box in the base of the fire. Almost as if she sensed Hayley’s sudden impulse to clamber over the wire and retrieve it, Sara pulled her sister closer.
One second the shoebox was lit up in the light of the hungry flames then it was curling and smoking, crumpling in on itself like a screwed up letter. Hayley felt her mouth dry out as the ashes were thrown up into the night with the showering sparks and the wafting smoke. The heat felt like a solid thing against her flesh. She craned her neck back to watch it all flake away into the stars just as there was a whirr and a bang and the sky was filled with a million glittering points of light.
She felt a laugh tumble from her throat and then another as more fireworks burst across the night in every colour possible. She felt Sara’s arm go round her and she took her gloved hand in her own but didn’t take her eyes off the sky, the smile widening across her face.