Thursday, May 05, 2011


Last week I was working on a fantasy story, and my reader suggested the ending was a bit weak, though he couldn't pinpoint why. What's required to make a strong ending for a short story, other than (obviously) a satisfying resolution to the plot problem? A final surprising twist? A snappy, dramatic, or otherwise memorable last line? An indication that the protagonist has learned something or grown in some way as a result of the action? My reader also felt that the protagonist in this story succeeded in her mission too easily, so I added some more obstacles, in hopes of fixing the "too easy" perception and thinking that change might make the ending feel stronger, too. I won't know whether the changes worked until I hear from the editor to whom I submitted the piece.

Speaking of endings: Bin Laden. (I'd already planned to discuss my story's "ending" problem before the raid was made public.) While it's wrong to gloat over the death of any human being, I admit my first reactions were the "relief" and "euphoria" mentioned in the news articles. Right after 9-11, I remember feeling a sort of nervous suspense, of wanting it to be "over"—and knowing that, although the media's claims that "the world has changed forever" were exaggerated, there wouldn't be any "over," only a gradual shift to a "new normal." Everybody recognizes that the death of bin Laden represents a symbolic victory, not a crushing blow to terrorism, which will always be with us in some form. If this incident were the culmination of a story arc on a TV series, the investigation would have taken only a few episodes or at most a season, the mission would have been shown through the viewpoint of either the President and his advisers (WEST WING) or the heroic Navy SEALs (a series along the lines of NCIS), an invaluable hoard of secret documents would have been discovered, and after the dramatic fall of the mastermind, his organization would have collapsed. A historian at CUNY was quoted in the local paper to the effect that these things never have real "beginnings and endings." It's the job of art to carve a piece out of the amorphous lump of experience we know as "real life" and impose structure on it, including beginnings and endings. I'm wondering what the inevitable movie based on the elimination of bin Laden will look like.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. On the fly response to what the movie might be like:

    Hunt For Red October meets Day Of The Jackal.

    Which, I guess suggests that I would rather see the movie from the POV of an analyst, rather than either a fictionalized Seal/assassin or an angst-ridden President.

    Who suffers most? That is supposed to dictate the POV character.

    My only solution to that one would be the female CIA honcho who insisted on being waterboarded herself before authorizing its use. However, she might have had nothing to do with the hunt.

    But, if we are considering fiction, her significant other could be one of the SEALS.