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.