People talk a lot these days about writing your own story. Owning your chapters of failure, growth, success and moving on. But in it all there’s one question that a writer is prone to ask, therefore I assume most people are asking. If we are writing our own stories.. how do you write an ending? What do you say and how do you face the night that comes? How do you approach the dawn?
It might be the ending of a chapter or the end of an act. Maybe it’s the very end of the story arc, where one character departs the scene for good.. how do you avoid the mistakes that writers make? How do you avoid falling into the trap of believing life in the fairytale version, instead of how things truly are? How we write is often how we live, so there is much to learn about how we face the seachanges of life from how we might tell our stories.
You can’t write it too happy.
Too happy means it’s not real. Too shallow, too fast, too tidy and it won’t ring true. It’s too contrived to tidy every loose and wrap up every moment with joy and glee. We’ve all seen those movies and read those dime-store novels that float away into nothingness at the end. There are winners and losers in life; big or little loss. An ending must always come with some grief, otherwise we’re not really saying goodbye. No matter how ready, how ripe, how meaningful the closing of one story is, there
In life, there are loose ties left behind and there is messiness left behind in the wake of the happiest of endings. It’s this messiness, the contrasting shadow across happiness that proves the mirth of an ending. We know the truth of things by the way they contrast with the ‘other’. So you can’t expect for any ending to end too happily. Let yourself off the hook. Some stories have messy endings, some things are irrepairable. It’s in the leaving of things undone, we know we are finished. A little scar to leave behind is crucial to believe that it was real. Happiness is coloured with sadness, always.
You can’t write it too sad.
Life is joy and sadness. When all things are equal, the human experience demands a silver lining in every circumstance. You do not have permission to write a scenario without some glimmer of goodness. It does not have to be hope but it must be metered gratitude; a finding of the light in the midst of darkness. Humanity demands optimism; even a fragment of it. Heroes are born from characters that choose to do what they can with what they have. That is the essence of writing light into a story. Some fragment of goodness, hauled from the worst wreckage of life.
To overcome, to survive, to keep on playing requires this ruthless devotion to optimism. Beyond youth, optimism is not inherent. Optimism and hope is a feat of human engineering; willing the mind and spirit to play along. You must write an ending, you may not allow it to happen to you. Without our interference, without our part to play – endings are too dark. They jar with the human consciousness and the creating nature we are born into; to always make new, to birth again, recreating.
So you have but one choice when writing an ending.
Nothing ends. Time is the cadence of the story you write and time continues on. One chapter ends and you must simply write another. Your chapters and authorship finish and your memory passes to another. Whether your lover, your child, your successor – when your authorship is done, that writer will have to say ‘and then’. There is always a next, until the Big Finish.
My lover left me. And then, I got up the next day. Or, and then I slept for four months straight.
Every ending has the capacity to be defined by the ‘Next’. Captured in the ‘and then’.
If we are cowardly, we will try to tidy our loose ends and let things end tidily. If we are foolish, we believe others feel the weight of our failures and tragedy as we do.. we cannot image the ‘and then’. But someone, somewhere will always be responsible for it. Picking up whatever ever is left and making the best of it.
And that is the only ending we can ever write for ourselves.
No matter what trauma or delight has come your way – success or tragedy; you must wake up in the morning and begin with ‘and then’.
There is always something else to come. It may not come easy. you may have to define it, fight for it or simply let it unfold.. but until your dying breath for every goodbye and every ending, you must respond with ‘and then’.
What will you do tomorrow when your work is done? What will you do tomorrow when you are let go from your job or your lover leaves you or you are simply bored with what you have. Whenever you reach an impasse or an end, you simply have permission to say ‘and then’. Begin a new chapter, a new story. And how will you begin it? It begins with ‘and then’. Wherever you go, encourage people to remember that when your time is done they too, should simply say ‘and then’. We are all waiting to become the ‘and then’.
For the writers.
This is also true for you. Your characters must reflect the 3D nuance of what it is to be human. We feel it all at once. Joy and tragedy. True characters will reflect that. Embrace the ‘and then’. Your heroes will not be struck down by tragedy but they may be ruined by it for a time. It’s human, real. It’s true.