• It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters – ctd.

    Kevin Drum thinks I’ve been fooled:

    Oh, Aaron. You’ve been snookered. Stephen King has somehow contrived to make a virtue out of the fact that modern authors are so relentlessly crappy at finishing up their stories. They can write 500 pages of wonderful, well-crafted prose — or, in King’s case, probably 5,000 pages — but most of them simply have no idea how to provide a conclusion that’s equally well crafted and satisfying. Why? I don’t know. But it’s a defect, not a virtue. I don’t know if the ending to the Dark Tower series was any good, but don’t listen to Stephen King. Authors should learn how to write complete narratives. That means a beginning, a middle, and an end. Anything that lets them off the hook for not getting all three parts right — for not giving the ending every bit as much love and attention as the rest of the narrative — should be treated as nothing more than the special pleading that it is.

    I will respectfully disagree. I know that Stephen King sometimes gets a bad rap for being so prolific, and there are books of his that didn’t do it for me (ie The Cell). But I think that in modern times there has been too much focus on the “ending”. We expect a twist, or a reveal, or something that elevates the work to a new level.

    That’s fine. Sometimes it’s entirely appropriate. And I’m not saying that books can just end with no warning or care. Narratives should be complete. But over 16 years and seven books, many stories were begun and ended. Many journeys started and finished. Characters appeared and died. But in my rush towards an end (which, as I said, I thought was fitting) I started missing what was going on right now.

    There’s too much fixation on the end. I think that’s misplaced. I can enjoy books one, two, three, four, five, and six without book seven. I can enjoy book seven without knowing what happens to Roland in the tower. The ending is rarely THE END.

    I think that’s worth knowing, and I give credit where it’s due to helping me see that.


    • I don’t disagree with this, really. In fact, it’s something that’s gnawed at me for a long time. I read lots and lots of fiction where I very much enjoy the bulk of the narrative, and I can enjoy it regardless of whether the ending is any good. But while endings don’t need to be neat and tidy, I do think they deserve the same level of craft as the rest of the book, and too many modern authors just don’t seem to bother. Or they don’t know how. I’m not sure which.

      This isn’t a knock on King. I’ve only read two of his books and don’t know how much effort he puts into the last 50 pages. But in general, I fully accept the idea that you can enjoy 950 pages of a book even if the last 50 are lousy, but still maintain that the last 50 matter very much.

    • The reason for this?

      I would look back to Robinson Crusoe, which I have heard identified as the “first novel.” That work has a pretty poorly-constructed, inconclusive ending. Could it be that novelists are operating within a weak pedigree?