In Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, she pointed out something that I’d never thought about before: The idea that if something is wrong with the end of the piece, then the problem is actually at the beginning.
I thought it was a great point–it’s how the resonance gets created, the inevitability. Whatever is at the end should reflect the change from the beginning.
With all of his convalutions, Wodehouse always seems to bring it back around at the end. He’s opened The Luck of Bodkins with the struggles of Monty to win over Gertrude. Whatever else regarding Alligator Actresses or Customs Officials, he always brings it back to that central problem: Gertrude doesn’t trust Monty.
If they love each other and want to be together, then that issue has to get resolved. And, hopefully, both characters learn a little bit about themselves by the end. (This isn’t Gone With the Wind…I’ll accept that the two main characters finally just trust each other, but bigger, more thematic stories need to bring it back around even tighter.)
With Smiley’s point in mind, I’m always really concious now when I hit the sixty/seventy page mark in a WIP. If the characters don’t seem to be going anywhere, then 1.) I haven’t created a situation in which they can adequately grow, or 2.) I didn’t have them far enough away from their goal in the first place. All this means that, by the time I get to the end, there will be a very limited sense of movement.
Wodehouse jerks his readers around quite a bit–yanking them across emotional coals, making them laugh, worry, etc. But in the end, you always get the sense that something significant has happened. Not necessarily to the main characters, if they are recurring characters like Jeeves and Wooster, but certainly to whatever the main problem was. If Wooster says he’s going to help his friend win over a girl, then you’ve got even money that the couple-of-Wooster’s-focus will be together by the end of the story…with Jeeves’s help, of course.
Without that movement, without the accomplishment of the goal, then Wodehouse would have a problem. Why read the book at all?
What books have you read that made you go: Perfect!? What books didn’t move like they should have?
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.