Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday Words: Don't Judge a Story by its Ending

All stories should be composed of three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. I say should because sometimes, things fall a little flat. But for the sake of argument, let us assume that if a story is published, these three very basic components have been met.

Now, these parts are not equal. Not even close. In the beginning, there's exposition. The stage is set. The main players are introduced. You get a feel for what's going on. That leads into part two: rising action. Conflict arises. Characters develop. Stakes are raised. Choices are made. All of this builds up to the story's climax. It's the moment we've all been waiting for! The big event! Go big or go home! Only after all of this comes part three, usually shorter and to the point. Here is the falling action and finally, the story's resolution. The dust settles, and here's where we are.

It's all very complex to do at all, and to do it well is truly a gift. All parts are not created equal, yet despite the story math outlined here and every plot structure chart English and Language Arts and Creative Writing teachers have been drawing since the dawn of time, why is it that the part people focus on more than any other always seems to be the end?

I mean, okay, in some ways I get it. Maybe it's because culture has trained us to be like this. Who doesn't love a good old fashioned Happily Ever After when the good guys win, the bad guys lose, justice for all?

But life isn't that way. Sometimes the good guy doesn't get what we all know he deserves. Sometimes the slimeball gets away with his heinous ways. This is the world we live in. Does it suck when these things happen? Of course. Believe me when I say that life teaches me this over and over again. Life isn't fair. It happens. It happens in reality and it happens in books, too.

Some stories quite literally get fairy tale endings. Do I love that? I do. And some stories don't, and while these stories rip our hearts out, make us cry, and leave us feeling like we've been punched in the gut, I think the stories are better because of it, and therefore I am too. I learn from these stories. I learn about the human condition and what it can endure. I learn about the lines we can and cannot cross, but sometimes we must. These stories are the ones that stand out to me.

This is a topic I spend an awful lot of time thinking about. Maybe it's because I work in a high school where I'm constantly surrounded by endings. 

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, wanting to find the endings that do justice to my characters, my beginnings, and my middles. 

It's about doing the story justice, not the story being just.

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