Monday, November 01, 2010

Some thoughts on endings: Dreaming of Deliverance's ending in particular!

Where the Red Fern Grows: With Connections

I've wanted to blog about story endings for a long time, but I've put it off because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't reached the conclusion of Dreaming of Deliverance. Actually, I'm still not sure how to do it! I guess I'll put a warning here. If you haven't finished DoD and don't want to have any inkling as to how Dreaming of Deliverance ends, skip this post. I'm not going to outright say what happens, but you'll get a sense of the tone of the ending.  Consider yourself warned!

A few years ago I was reading one of my favorite childhood books, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, to my daughter. If you're not familiar with the story, it's about a boy in the Ozarks who works for years to save enough money to buy some hunting dogs. He and the dogs develop an incredible friendship and at the end of the book the dogs are killed saving his life. (It's a little more complicated, but in a nutshell, that's the story.) So I'm reading this book to my 7-year-old daughter and she's laughing at the dogs' antics and the cute, smart things they do, and as we get closer to the end of the story I start to stress. I feel like I'm guiding her to her doom. My dilemma was, do I warn her about what's going to happen and spoil the story for her, or do I blithely go on, knowing that it's going to be rough for her at the end? Wimp that I am, I ended up telling her that the dogs would die, but that it still was a great story, and I asked her if she wanted me to finish it. She said no. We've still never gotten to the end of that book.

When I was podcasting DoD I had a similar concern. People would write to me and tell me how much they loved the characters and I'd think, "I'm sorry! Don't hate me when you get to the end!" I felt like warning people to brace themselves. But I didn't. And I know the way the story ended was tough for many.

Sad endings have never ruined a story for me. Like Where the Red Fern Grows, some of my favorite stories have sad endings: The Time Traveler's Wife, Dragonfly in Amber, Shakespeare in Love, Before Sunrise. I don't like stories that are complete downers--where there's no upside. But that's not the case in DoD. There is a lot of positive at the end, both for Lindsay and most of the other characters. It's not all bad. And with DoD, a completely happily ever after ending wouldn't have fit with the rest of the book. It's a dark story.

Besides, I don't pull any punches when it comes to story. I guess I'm brave that way. If you're one of my characters, you have to realize that I won't keep you safe, just because I like you.

Still, I apologize to anyone who was upset by DoD's ending.

One of the tough things about being an independent artist is that there's no paid mentor to ask for advice. I've wondered for months if I should come right out and reveal something that might make you feel better about DoD's ending. However, being independent, I don't have an agent or editor to consult. And my knowledgable friends, who I know would be happy to advise me, are fans of the story. I haven't wanted to ruin anything for them just because I wanted some guidance.

But I did end up telling one person something about the ending, something that I think most people missed. (It's okay that they missed it, I kept it subtle intentionally.) Then I asked her what she thought I should do: tell or not tell.

Her advice was this: allude.

So here's my not-so-cryptic revelation:

Go back and listen to the last episode. Or read the end one more time, if you're a reader not a listener. If you pay close attention to exactly what's described (and what's not described) you'll probably feel better about how the story ends.

And there is a sequel. Don't forget that. I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this month, but I do plan to do a lot of writing on DoD2. Before too long, I think I'm going to release a few excerpts from it to whet your appetite for the next part of the story. Possibly in video form, now that I have a taste of being on camera!

Yay! My post on endings is finally complete. Feeling any better now? I hope so! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or want to share your thoughts on endings in general and DoD's in particular. I'm happy to talk more about it!


BrandG said...

My personal opinion is, "Don't apologize."

This is your story. As readers/listeners, we sign on to share the story that was important to you. If it's a happy ending, so be it. If someone shoots the rabid dog in the face, so be it (hope I'm not spoiling any other movies for anybody). :)

Thing is, you have to stand tall and say, "This is the story I wrote." There will be people who deride spelling, grammar, punctuation, characterization, plot twists, inconsistencies, etc. etc.

You should lump complaints about the ending in that same category. People who want the story to be what they want it to be. Some ideas you may like, and make those changes. In the face of others, you need to say, "This is the story I wrote."

Because, if you don't, you'll never know what your story is. You'll be writing to satisfy a poll. While it's possible to write a story by committee, it's almost never any good.

R.E. (Renée) Chambliss said...

Thanks, Brand. I agree! I did not make any changes to the story because I was worried how people would react. And I did go ahead and release the ending without warning anyone. That subtle language I've alluded to here, was there from the beginning.

I do stand by the story and wouldn't do it any differently. When I started writing it, my only plan was to write the kind of story I enjoy. To me, the theme of sacrifice and loss, and going forward anyway, is extremely moving and powerful. My favorite stories have those elements, so it makes sense DoD would too.

And I totally agree about not trying to please everyone. It's impossible and doesn't make for good storytelling.

But being me, I still feel bad for putting people through that ending! And that's why I apologize.

Thanks again for commenting!

craigr1971 said...

I thought I got the subtle suggestion, but hummmmmmm.....
Please know this: DoD is a phenomenal book and no apologia is called for. As the lawyer can confirm: res ipsit locitur. In this case res, that is DoD, is speaks loudly, and you did a great job ; )

craigr1971 said...

PS, I don't like sad endings, Old Yellow, Love Story, Saw III, that type of thing. If I see one coming, I may abort the story to save myself the grief. I guess I'm too sensitive, but make mine Toy Story or Bill and Ted's EA........

R.E. (Renée) Chambliss said...

I haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet, but I've heard it's a real tear jerker, so you might want to avoid that one, Craig! ;o)

I'm pretty sure you are one of the few who did pick up on the subtle language....I might have to go through my emails to verify, though.

Saw III has a sad ending, huh? Maybe I should check that one out!

(And thanks!)

Chromey Starsong said...

This is a very, very awesome story, Renee. Thank you very much for it and there's really no need to apologize! It's very powerful at least to me anyways. Any story that gets me to want to cheer loudly at some points with her accomplishments is a very good story indeed. The ending was a sad, that's true but you're right. It might not had been the same if it turned out differently. *hugs Renee!* Thank you again :)

janet-b said...

I love the ending of DoD and it seemed just right to me. But then I also loved Where the Red Fern Grows. I don't like what I call "train-wreck" endings where the disastrous finale seems unnecessary and ill-suited to the story (e.g. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle), but your book, and Red Fern, and Romeo & Juliet just all end perfectly, if not perfectly happily. Of course, that's all subjective judgment on my part. Keep trusting your instincts, Renee!