Friday, May 20, 2011

Up, Up, and Away!

No, this isn't another entry about the Rapture. It's about endings. To books and television shows.

As a writer, the trickiest thing to pull off is the ending. Setting the stage is easy, and it's not that difficult to ratchet up the tension and build expectations for a fantastic climax and resolution. But eventually, you have to deliver, and that's when it gets tricky. You've made a deal with the audience: keep paying attention and I'll return the favor with a killer ending. It's the same kind of deal a joke-teller makes with an audience: stick with me during the joke, and I'll give you a laugh.

It's easy to stick with a joke. You've only lost a few seconds if the joke falls flat. There are cases where you have a Shaggy Dog joke, or any kind of joke in which the object is to waste the listener's time with a drawn out joke that's really a practical joke. Even then, you're not out that many moments in your life.

With books, it's different. There's more time, and often money, invested. Sometimes it's a single book, and the time investment is relatively short. Either the book pays off or it doesn't, and you can move on to the next. Then you get into the book series, and this is where a reader must invest carefully. While each book has an ending, the overall series is building somewhere and you have to choose whether to keep reading and continue to invest your time, money, and energy.

I love a good, epic book series. When done right, even in a trilogy, you get a sweeping, developed, nuanced story that ends far from where it starts, and the journey is incredible for both the characters and the plot. This is an even bigger investment, and as a reader, I expect a nice payoff. Not only am I reading many books, but if I start reading it as it's being written, I have to wait for it to finish, and that adds to my expectations. Thus, an ending that might be acceptable for a single book becomes a betrayal when I've invested years into reading, waiting, speculating, and camping out in bookstores so no one spoils it for me.

This is why I'm already planning my ending. That's right, I'm writing an epic series of books. At least, I think they are epic. The first one should be out in June. (I've set the date for June 1, and hopefully I'll get it out by then.) I'm releasing it via Amazon for download, so I'm going the self publishing route. The good news is that I alone get to shape this story. The bad news is that if the ending disappoints, it's all my fault. And since I plan to write seven of these books, I know how important the ending is. If someone is actually going to invest the time and money reading these books, I want them to not feel cheated at the end of any of them, especially book seven.

I'm obsessed with endings, you should know, and I want to make sure that the ending is rewarding and not simply an afterthought. If you are going to invest in my creation, you deserve a good ending when you get there. That's also how I feel about television shows. If I watch the series faithfully, I expect a solid series finale. When you end it, end it well.

I'm going to return to the subject of endings and series finales in many future posts (the ones I loved and the ones that still make me mad) but I will focus on one this time: Smallville. Smallville is one of the few shows that I've been watching since the pilot premiered. I'm a huge Superman fan, and this show's premise excited me. I stuck with it through the good, bad, and ugly (and believe me, it got ugly at times) because I wanted to see how they were going to take this young Clark Kent and have him become Superman.

That was the deal. We watch the show, you give us Superman at the end. They did not hold up their end of the bargain. For starters, we never got to see Tom Welling in The Suit. We saw a CGI figure flying around, we saw some close-ups with a CGI cape in the background, but we didn't see him BE Superman, embody Truth, Justice, and the American Way. We didn't see him become this inspiring leader who saves the day. We didn't even see a huge battle royale between Superman and Darkseid.

Instead, he flew once and pushed a large object into space. That was supposed to be Clark becoming Superman? That was the ending we were waiting on? As far as I'm concerned, the writers and creators of Smallville didn't keep up their end of the bargain, and I feel cheated.

However, there is good news regarding this ending. I'm going to learn from it for my books. I want each book in my series to have a solid ending, and I want the final volume to be the culmination of an epic six-book buildup that finally pays off. I've been planning this series for 8 years now, so when it comes out, it should be something.

This blog will also explore the concept of endings more. I plan to focus especially on series finales, the ones that brought their series to a graceful close, and the ones that ensured I would never pay money for the series on DVD. I'll also talk about some of the shows I am watching and my expectations for those endings.

In addition, I'll also talk books and those endings (These may involve SPOILERS so be warned.) Ideally, these blog posts will help us all achieve a greater understanding of writing and ending. Hopefully you will find the investment worthwhile.

I can do more than talk pop culture. Check out the book I wrote.

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