Just as individuals change over the course of their lives, the protagonist in our stories must change in some way, by learning from her mistakes and failures, either ultimately rising above the ashes of her struggles, or on the other hand, submitting to her inner demons at long last. Our characters in our stories, like individuals in life, set out on journeys to travel, and create dreams and goals to pursue, but it is not until he or she actually writes the ending that it all becomes real.
Writing experts tell us in order to end our stories well, we must not allow our hero to be rescued by someone or something else. Rather, the hero must demonstrate to readers that he has grown, or changed in some way, over the course of the story, on his own, through his own lessons and struggles.
Is it the first lines of the story, in which we set up the direction of the journey, that are most impactful or is it the last lines that resonate most with the audience? Is it what we end the current year with that matters or the promises we make for the new year ahead that makes us better writers, parents, children, spouses, partners, siblings, co-workers, friends or neighbors? Is it the culmination of the lessons we learned or taught, the good deeds we performed through the current year, the love we shared or received, the peace we made despite the challenges, the memories we created, or rather, the resolutions we write with our expectations listed in chronological order on January 1st ,that have the most impact on our lives and on others?
Beginnings are important, but endings tie the stories in our fiction, and our lives, all together. It is the endings we write, and that we reach in our lives, that makes our stories, and life, most meaningful and real. We can write all the great beginnings we want, but they would remain as only dreams, wishes or hopes until our characters actually trudge through each chapter, or we as individuals pass through the phases of our lives, to reach the point in which we are able to write a strong ending; one that reflects the success of actualizing the hope of those first lines, or one that loops our ending back to the beginning of our story- that moment in which we first set out with expectations, daring to place words on a blank page, having no idea what would be in store for us later on, down the road. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other runners waiting by our side at the starting line is exciting, but actually persevering to the finish line is what makes our efforts worth while, important to us and real.
In Charles Dickens’, Christmas Carol, the first lines read as follows,;
Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.
While this beginning certainly reels the audience in, setting readers up for the dark theme of the story, it is the ending that resonates long after the story is finished;
Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.” “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”,
Ebenezer Scrooge went from a bitter and angry man fueled by greed and selfishness, to a changed person with an open heart and renewed eagerness to give to others what he had held exclusively close to himself, having forgotten what truly matters in life. By the end of the story, the reader sees an individual filled with peace and happiness, where a miserable, hate -filled man once stood. It is the ending of the story, and Scrooge’s metamorphosis that touches the audience.
The “write” ending might loop the end of the story around to the beginning, leading the reader back to the first lines, highlighting the moral of the story, or the point the author desired to make. In Wally Lamb’s, I know this much is True, the reader not only learns something, but she feels the emotion and meaning the author slowly built through the previous acts leading into the story’s ending,
“I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family’s, and my country’s past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I’ve figured out. I know this much is true.”
This final passage sums up the story, tying the end to the beginning, providing added depth to the theme and the author’s point, the same way the ending to our own year illuminates the good and the bad moments, highlighting our successes and our failures while reminding us of what is most and least important to us.
In a recent Hallmark movie, Small Town Christmas , one of the main characters makes the following comment when pointing out what matters to her, to a friend; “ It is what matters. That’s all I care about. End of story.” She uses the term end of story, to emphasize her point, putting any ambiguity of what is real and what matters most to rest. Done. Finished. Nothing else matters. The end. End of Story!
Whether it is the end of a story, the end of a relationship, the end of a special day, the end of a good or bad year, the end of a discussion, thought or idea, or the end of a lifetime, it is the last lines we write that sum up who we really are in the end. The ending today could determine the direction of the road ahead of us in the next chapter of our story or in our lives or afterlives, if we pay close enough attention. We can hope for a better year ahead, for our New Year’s resolutions to come true, but it is where we land at the end of each year that is our reality. It is the ending we write that reflects the real truth of who we are, and who our characters came to be in our fiction.
Like our characters in our stories, it is who we became, who we are now in this moment at the end, and the lessons we learned and taught, the love and peace we shared, the struggles we overcame, and the memories we made, that makes the difference. It is truly as simple as that. End of Story!
Wishing everyone a healthy and happy new year ahead in 2019. May the beginnings you create come true in the year ahead and may the ending you write at this time next year reflect who you set out to be in the beginning and your success at arriving there in the end.