Our beloved psychic twin/spiritual counselor, Author-friend Chérie l'Ecrivain, expounds on how to end your novel properly. You can see more of Chérie's wisdoms here. Chérie l'Ecrivain is a Real Writer, agented, currently working on her first novel.
[An aside: if our posts are full of typographical errors from this point onward, it's because OUR FACE IS MELTING SO HARD FROM YOUR CONTEST ENTRIES WE CAN'T SEE OUT OUR EYEBALLS. You are AMAZING, Author-friends!!! UH-MAAAAAAAAAY-ZING!!!!!!!!]
Someday Axl Rose is going to die. I’m willing to wager that I find myself mulling over this sad fact more frequently than about 99.9% of the population. Sometimes when I can’t sleep it hits me, and I imagine myself many years in the future, watching the evening news after dinner with my Eventual Life Partner when Axl’s visage appears in the corner of the screen above the anchor’s talking head. Shortly after Axl’s demise is announced, my Imaginary Children flock around the sofa and tug frantically on their father’s sleeves while demanding to know, “Why is Mommy crying? Did she know that man?” After I’ve collected myself and one of my offspring has fetched me two fingers of Jameson, I explain that no, Mommy didn’t know that man, but she followed his music, his career, and his ridiculous, inimitable, singular life story, and it was a story I was devastated to see finally come to a close.
The reason is simple: Axl Rose is like a book I never want to finish. I am not a delusional fan, I do not think that Axl and I are destined to be friends, but I have watched his story unfold with particular fascination, first during my adolescence and now throughout my entire (ostensibly) adult life. I understand that he has been the subject of a great deal of ridicule since he had the audacity to outlive the typical rock star expiration date of 27 years old, get cornrows, and spend a decade holed up in his Malibu mansion, obsessively recording and rerecording every track on “Chinese Democracy” fourteen or fifteen thousand times, but I have remained captivated, if by nothing else than by the sheer outlandishness of this narrative. He never had the kind of bonafide drug or alcohol problem that plagues nearly every successful rock musician eventually, and therefore can probably count on having a normal life expectancy, which not only fills me with unimaginable delight but also makes me wonder how the hell this man is going to come up with a comparable third act, and, yes, a satisfying denouement. If his life were a novel, what ending could possibly do it justice?
There is a great deal of discussion about how to open your novel, how to write the first five pages so that you hook an agent/editor/reader, but there’s always a lot less chatter about how to write an ending. Writing the end is, in many ways, infinitely more difficult. If you have done your job as a writer, and breathed sufficient life into your characters so that your readers now consider your imaginary friends to be their imaginary friends as well, then a) HUZZAH YOU ARE A CHAMPION and b) how do you wrap up their story in a way that is gratifying and conclusive but also true to the idea that your characters are somehow real entities who will continue to live their little lives after your reader has closed your book with a pleased sigh, turn off their bedside lamp and gone to sleep? How do you leave your readers with that wistful feeling of wanting more, yet still knowing that the story ended right where it should? Imagine you were trying to write the novel of Axl's life. If you could even wrap your mind around where to BEGIN his story--when he's thrown out of his house at sixteen? when he meets Izzy Stradlin in driver's ed? when he moves to Los Angeles?--how could you possible find a good place to stop? Sure, maybe things gets less exciting after the band disintegrates in the mid-nineties, but would you really want to end your novel before you get to the part where the man responsible for the most face-melting album of the 80s makes an exclusive deal with Best Buy for the retail rights to his new record?
When people invest in fictional characters, eventual closure is one of the returns they will demand on that investment. (This is why the series finale of “Six Feet Under” is the most pants-shittingly awesome episode of television, ever, and the last ten minutes of “The Sopranos” is essentially believed to be an act of aggression against decent American people.) [Also why the final episode of "Battlestar Galactica" makes us FUCKING HOMICIDAL. --ed.] Since most fictional narratives can’t follow every important character to their eventual demise, the rest of us are stuck trying to find a sincere way to bid them farewell. Like pornography, we know a good ending when we see one but are hard-pressed to identity its components; we recognize that plaintive lump in our throats when an utterly delicious book comes to its conclusion, and we turn the last page hoping for more but find only the acknowledgements. If I had to find a common thread among my favorite endings, it would be those that have followed their characters to the completion of whatever story that novel set out to tell, without overreaching by trying to freeze the cast in that moment forever. The last line of Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block’s slinkster-cool YA masterpiece, sums it up nicely: “I don’t know about happily ever after... but I know about happily, Weetzie thought.” As for Axl, I will continue to follow his story in real time, occasionally going back to revisit some of the juiciest bits, checking my Google alerts for news of him, my bottle of Jameson always at the ready.