Today marked the official start of Operation Write Like A Mother.
I’m pretty much researched out now, and I’ve got a nice wall full of structural Post-It notes. All that remains now is to commit some 60,000 words to paper between now and 2nd January. Just north of 1500 publishable words a day. What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, what nearly went wrong is that, until three days ago, I had no idea what the ending was going to be. In writing, as in love, endings are hard. Really hard.
As I may have mentioned a few times before, I’m reading a lot of William Goldman at the moment. In Which Lie Did I Tell he claims that he’s only ever written one really good ending, and that was the end of Butch Cassidy. I believe him. The ending of All The President’s Men, for example, stands out for me as one of the worst of all time. The screenplay was written at a time when everyone knew the story of Watergate inside out, so Goldman decided to stop the film halfway through the book. Pre- impeachment, pre-conclusion. The audience could fill in the rest themselves.
The only problem is that today, for me, it gives the same feeling as the end of Monty Python and The Holy Grail (ironically, one of the best endings). Bang. Click. What the fuck happened there? Watergate is not part of our brain in the same way it was in 1976 so the ending leaves the 2007 viewer feeling short-changed and confused.
Now, if this blog achieves anything, it’s to illustrate that I’m not a hundredth of the writer that Goldman is. So if he can’t write endings, what chance do I have? And to make it harder, my book is (like All The President’s Men, but a mite less dramatic) an actual true story. And one that – in many ways – hasn’t ended yet. For weeks I’ve been trying to create an artificial ending – like an artificial lagoon, or some kind of conclusion dam. Jesus, the wordcount is the very least of my problems – without a natural ending, I’m screwed.
But then earlier in the week, as I was pacing back and forward in Maggie’s kitchen, telling a quite different story, it hit me. Like it does in films where something innocuous said by a minor character – “tuna always brings me out in hives” – helps the hero to solve the murder – “hives… of… course…”. Just like that.
What hit me was the reason I need to stop worrying and love the lack of a definite ending to the story. If this sounds trite and cryptic (it does) then it’s only because I haven’t written the fucker yet – but what hit me was that by not having a final ending or a conclusion to the story, I actually do.
Yes, endings (in writing as in love) are hard. But that’s only because – and it annoys me that this obvious truth only just occurred to me – they don’t actually exist. Not really.
Writing a true story, the best I can do is to look back at everything that’s happened so far, decide at what point the biggest lesson was learnt, make sure the reader agrees, and then get the hell out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
And having realised that, I can suddenly make out the shape of my lagoon in the distance. I can set a course and hope to hell I reach it before 2nd January.
Now here’s a funny twist that could only really happen in blogging where there’s no editing and no re-writing (or at least there’s shouldn’t be). As I’m writing this, something is nagging in my head. Something familiar. And I’ve just worked out what it is.
I wish I’d read Goldman more carefully the first time because, perhaps without meaning to, he provides a lesson to anyone trying to find an ending for an ongoing true story. Here it is in Adventures in the Screen Trade, when Goldman talks about a great work of fiction: Psycho…
“For me perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Psycho is this: I don’t know of another major film that has as atrocious, as boring – as in all ways wrong – an ending… the music is blasting away and we have the fight intercut with Vera’s hysteria and these shots of “Mother,: her skull changing in front of us as the light bulb in the ceiling swings and swings. Fabulous. It’s sure as hell a high spot, and I’m willing to bet it’s the last thing most of us remember clearly, but it’s not the ending. The ending is seven full minutes away… And five of those seven minutes are taken up with one of the great snooze scenes, where the local shrink comes in and delivers this antagonizingly primitive course in Freud… Nobody listened to the psychiatrist.”
Nobody listened to the psychiatrist.
Five words that every single author of books about themselves should write on a Post-It note and stick above their desk.