Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ending the Secrets

And the answers are:
  • "I've got some cream for that."
  • -17.3
  • Underwear
Life is full of mysteries:  the punch line to jokes, the answers to math problems, and that puzzling smushy birthday present.

We have to find out how things end up.  It's critical.  Some of us anticipate a little better than others.

Think about how you read a really gripping story.  Do you nervously enjoy the ride to the very end?  Do you crack and skip to the ending because you just have to find out what happens?  Or do you unabashedly read the ending first?

What if there were no secret endings?  Would it really even matter to you?  Could the story still be enjoyable?

I'm sure you've all writhed in agony at some point listening to someone butcher a great joke you already knew the punch line to.  Although you knew the ending, it was the delivery that ruined it this time.  Hear that same joke told by a good comedian and you're laughing again.

If all we cared about were the endings to stories, then we would get our novels from fortune cookies instead of from libraries.  But it's the journey, not the destination (more about that here in a previous post).  Maybe it was all a dream, maybe the butler did it, or maybe the protagonist dies at the end.  Who cares?  How does it develop?  What must the characters overcome?  What inevitability leads to the ending?  This is what makes reading the story enjoyable.  This is why we have tattered copies of our favorite books.

Life is not simply about having the answers.  Sometimes we never even get them.  My wife, for example, will not let me teach her how to solve the Rubik's Cube.  Apparently she likes a mysterious geek.  But I already know a solution.  Does that stop me from solving it again and again?  Heck no!  It is still fun.

As a reader, do you need your endings to remain a secret?
As a writer, do you need to know the ending before you start writing?


  1. It's definitely about the journey. That's where the bonds are forged between the reader and the story. The end is only as valuable as the shared experience in arriving there. In my humble opinion... :-)

  2. Thanks Stephanie. You're right that the ending is the cumulative experience. If giving away the ending can spoil the whole story, then it's probably not such a great story to begin with.

  3. Always enjoy your posts, Jason.

    As a reader, I DO like the endings to be a secret. It would be anathema for me to read the ending.

    As a writer, I HAVE to know the ending before I even begin fleshing out the plot. I'm an unashamed plotter. :)

  4. And I always enjoy your comments, Mindi ;-)

    I'm the same way, I always start with the ending, but I don't necessarily plot to get there.

  5. As a reader, I like a mystery ending. As a writer, i always know the beginning and the's the middle that stumps me. Love the post. Now following. So excited to keep up with your posts!
    -A.L. Davroe

  6. Thanks for stopping by. I'm happy to have you. Headed over to your blog now.

  7. I love this post. As a reader, it is definitely about the journey for me. In fact, I've always had the bad habit of reading the final two pages of a book first, especially when I really love a story. I will often get to the very last section of a book only to put it away for a month or two before I finish. Even though I know how it ends, there are some stories I just don't want to finish. It's as if putting it off allows me to linger in that world for just a bit longer.

    I do the same thing with my writing. I'll spend months and months drafting a story, but when it comes to the very last chapter, I'll put it away for several weeks.

    I suppose you could say I just don't want some books to end.

  8. I know what you mean about the endings. It's like when you were a kid and your parents came to pick you up from a sleepover. I'm not ready to go yet!

    There are a couple of my favorite movies that I can (and have) watched over and over again.