((This is part 3 of a 3 part thinkywritything on storytelling. Part 2 is here.))
Kogo, the goshawk, fluttered on his wrist and settled herself, watching him. Toranaga smiled at her. “I did not choose to be what I am. It is my karma.” – Shogun, James Clavell
I have bad news, dear reader. I’m afraid this post is what I promised from the beginning. And end to the tale. To a tale. The good news is I have no problems putting this particular beast to bed. But before we go, I have a secret to tell you. I’m afraid it’s not a very pleasant secret, but it’s a very important secret to keep in mind I think for anything you write, create, play or do. To help me tell you I thought I’d bring along a friend, she’s really good at talking about these kinds of things.
You see, dear and gentle reader. I’m afraid one day all of our stories come to an end, one way or another. It’s a fact I really wish more storytellers came to grips with, because it would allow them so much more control over their destiny. The brutal truth of the matter is no matter how hard you try, eventually there will be no more episodes of your TV show, no more issues of your comic or sequels for your books. Your character who has gained so many experience points will eventually vanish, and the reason is because eventually you won’t be around to continue telling those stories.
Now in a less morbid sense it’s also possible you will simply lose your audience or your funding and be unable to continue telling your tale. It’s something I have seen in countless role-playing games however. People begin telling a story of their character and at some point become so affixed to the idea of watching numbers on a character sheet increase that they hate the idea of losing this story, of the story ending. This, however, is brutally unkind to your character, and your story.
If you remember my original post on storytelling I asked you to remember that in storytelling, you are entering into a covenant with your reader, and now that you have engaged them with a brilliant beginning and kept them on the line through twisting dangers, it’s not time to bring it all home and close the book. It is time to take charge of how your story is remembered.
My friend Ben told me he no longer reads book series which don’t have an ending yet, because too many times he has had this covenant broken for him. We’ve all I think felt this pang with TV Shows, comics and books. I think one of the chief successes of the format of a movie is that for the most part it is entirely self contained. Our minds seek patterns and long for the ends of these stories and it’s our duties as storytellers that when we begin these stories we not only have thought of our ending, but deliver on them as well.
“‘Villains!’ I shrieked, ‘dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! – here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!'” – Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart
I remember helping to run a game in which several players had characters join the game who were high level and who they had controlled for several years, and they used these characters to try to solve a problem. I told each of them that they could, if they wanted, automatically solve the problem by sacrificing their character and using this opportunity to have a meaningful and compelling death. A glorious period at the end of their story. Every one of them turned me down, and in the end it was one of the things that started the idea for talking about these aspects of story in this blog.
If we don’t deliver on these stories, and don’t end them in the ways we desire, then our eventual deaths or disillusionment will bring a mediocre conclusion to an otherwise compelling tale. There is plenty of this to be found out in the wild. This happens with countless TV shows because seasons ultimately aren’t continued and we have a hanging end of a story that’s never concluded, or the writers lose their way and focus and we have endings that leave us ultimately unfulfilled.
Particularly now in video games, in a genre of MMO’s, first person shooters and sandboxes, we’ve lost a bit of the craft of telling a story. Some studios still come out and shine with games like The Last Of Us and give me hope and faith, showing that there is a real depth and heartfelt love of storytelling that still sticks around in video games. There is still a chance for hope, for love and for some satisfying moment.
That moment of catharsis, though, is the thing which inspires our greatest love as a consumer. It’s the moment when written words on a page cause a slow creepy grin to crawl across our faces, and by the time we finished we stand up and shout and cheer. These moments seem more and more rare, but when they happen they’re incredible. The stories we think of as truly great all have endings, and rarely do people love a story that dies in the middle. Everyone wants to know if Roland finds the dark tower, but the story has an end so I know the answer (oh do I know the answer…). Because the television show Life came to a fitting ending, I can talk to my friends who saw it and ask them “Do you know how I survived Twelve Years in prison?” and they will all smile, because one line so beautifully brought to conclusion the ending of a series of television. When you talk to a Firefly fan and say “I am a leaf on the wind”, the impact of those moments are true and real and they remind us of deep heartfelt emotions we simply cannot feel without a period at the end of a sentence.
“The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water” – Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
I was hoping to deliver this to you earlier but I was delayed because shockingly close to my last blog post I wrote on this topic, talking about how inspired my storytelling had been from the fabulous Mark Lewis. Mr. Lewis somewhat suddenly passed away. I have spent some time working on my own thanks to his memory but it affected me considerably more than I thought it would. It was a reminder that at some point we’ll be gone and the only remnants will be how we are remembered by the people we have left behind. Those memories, though, are what I hope to talk a bit more about here. Ultimately however, I thought it would be hypocritical to continue to sit on a post about finishing a story and telling an end, and never in fact following that self-same advice. So for myself, for those friends of mine whose stories ended far too soon, I’m going to use this opportunity to make a promise. No more half finished stories. No more stilted beginnings and unfinished endings. It’s time to buckle down and tell some tales, beginning, middle and end. Otherwise we