Story Ending

Reading Comprehension by SRS Vision

Reading Comprehension by SRS Vision

I recently got a comment on Literotica for my story Under One Sun which essentially complained that the story ended too soon and too abruptly.

I’ve received a few complaints like this recently, not least for Glade and Ivory which at least took thirty chapters and 130,000 words until it reached the end. Similar remarks have been made about other stories I’ve written, followed sometimes by a request to write subsequent chapters.

So, clearly, it could be said that I have a problem in bringing my stories to a satisfactory end.

In my defence, I’ll say that it isn’t always that easy to determine what the end of a story should be. And that’s because the end of a story isn’t supposed to be just the point at which the author had run out of ideas, although my guess this is often what has happened for some writers and even more often what it seems like.

The end of a story serves a number of very important functions. Sometimes it is where there is a twist in the narrative such as in my stories, People are Strange and The Fix. Sometimes it’s where the story provides some kind of moral message. At other occasions it works to tie up all the loose ends, particularly in a very long story such as The Sot-Weed Factor and most novels prior to the twentieth century. Whatever its function, the end of the story is supposed to offer some kind of a resolution to what’s happened before. It serves pretty much the function of the last two lines of a sonnet, which may turn upside down what seemed to be the thrust of the text until then or simply to reinforce or bring to a natural end the general proceeding.

And this, I guess, is a general weakness of mine.

In some cases, like Into the Unknowable the final chapter was written long before most of the novel’s body was written and the narrative is all about how to get there. But in Glade and Ivory and, indeed, Under One Sun the end seems somewhat arbitrary. It might suggest resolution or it might suggest that more is yet to follow. This is the problem of stories that don’t begin “Once upon a time…” and end “They all lived happily ever after.”

Although it’s clearly far from obvious in many of my stories, I do have an idea what the end of the story might be, but I’m aware that there may often be scope for improvement. In Under One Sun, the final phrase “I do” was supposed to evoke the modern institution of marriage, just as throughout the story I deliberately threw in references that might seem to be anachronistic, like the names Fern and Heather and the use of the term “What the heck”. However, I’m not sure what is truly anachronistic in a story of this nature given that we have a lot in common with our Neolithic ancestors and many customs that might seem contemporary, such as naming people after green vegetation, might well have happened in the many thousands of years preceding the written record.

But as well as not being quite the resolution that, in this case, Anonymous  might prefer, I guess there is also the suggestion that some of my stories, such as Under One Sun should be either longer or be the first chapter of a novel. In this case, I’m not sure Under One Sun has enough going for it to be extended to novel length. Ironically, I had originally intended to write a quarter of a million word novel on Neolithic Britain and this was going to be part of it, but further reflection convinced me that it was difficult to get much narrative and plot out of such a setting without losing my way and probably lose my readership at the same time.

So, I’m afraid we’ll just have to be satisfied with what we’ve got.


Under One Sun

Frank Frazetta - Angel Hair

Frank Frazetta – Angel Hair

This post is to announce that I’ve added a new Short Story Under One Sun to all the usual places where I publish my fiction. Like Glade and Ivory and Big Game, this story has a prehistoric setting, hence the illustration above by Frank Frazetta.

The setting is actually a lot more recent than the other two stories in that they were set in the Ice Age and this story is set in the early Neolithic in the period when agriculture was beginning to be established in Britain where this story is set.

In a sense, the prehistoric setting is almost incidental to the thrust of the story although it gives me an opportunity to speculate about life at that time.  It assumes a summer solstice pilgrimage that is attended by everyone who is able to do so throughout the British Isles and which ceremony serves a purpose rather like the pilgrimages in Mediaeval Christianity and modern-day Islam to hold together disparate communities and cultures in a shared peaceful ritual. But its general theme which relates to an encounter between a young girl and a young man from very different cultures could easily have been set at any time and any place in history.

In a deliberate attempt to make this prehistoric society seem more modern than it really is and thereby make its theme seem more timeless, I gave the two sisters at the centre of the story the names Heather and Fern which seem rather contemporary although they were just as likely to have been used several thousand years ago.

There aren’t very many stories written by anyone that covers Neolithic society. Most stories that deal with prehistory prefer a time when there were mastodon and great ground sloth in America and mammoth and woolly rhinoceros in Europe. Although there was a quite different fauna in Neolithic Europe than today, it wasn’t quite as exciting and with the exception of such animals as aurochs and the great auk most of the animals that lived then are much the same as today but in larger numbers. The biggest differences relate to domestic animals and cultivated fruits and vegetables, but these don’t make very exciting reading for those of us who like to imagine a prehistoric world more like the one that Raquel Welch inhabited than that of Ötzi the Ice Man. Personally, I think this period of history is worth writing about in rather more depth than I have in this story, but as I realised when I originally contemplated writing a 64 chapter novel set in Neolithic Britain there is so much that’s unknown that it would be difficult to do so with any confidence of accuracy and also quite hard to make it especially interesting to the average reader who justifiably would prefer to read about a much more exotic landscape than one that in many ways isn’t too different to that of today.

But I’m sure there’s someone out there with more knowledge than I have of Neolithic society who could write those missing historical novels and who could incorporate the megaliths of Dorset and the Orkneys along with the various observable changes in prehistoric society that might reflect, perhaps, the incredible longevity of a society in the British Isles which congregated at Stonehenge and the other prehistoric sites, the abrupt breakdown of this society in the Bronze Age and the construction of Hill Forts all across Southern England, and the evidence of remarkably extensive prehistoric trade and commerce around Europe and beyond.