Here’s a thought I loved from the children’s book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg:
Claudia doesn’t want adventure. She likes baths and feeling comfortable too much for that kind of thing. Secrets are the kind of adventure she needs. Secrets are safe, and they do much to make you different. On the inside where it counts.
When I think of keeping secrets, I often think of negative secrets dealing with hurt. But there are good secrets, too. There are secrets that are fun that people keep for the pure effervescence they bring.
The thrill of keeping a secret is why I never write down the ending when I’m planning a story. When I have a story idea, I jot it down to exorcise it out of my system while I’m working on my current project. If I return to the story premise and can’t remember the ending, it wasn’t that good. To tell the ending is to spoil the secret. I’d rather it well up in me so that I have a goofy grin on my face when I think about it.
A writer is one who creates a story like a set of courses for a dinner. It’s very exciting because there’s all the expectation of experimenting, recording, and perfecting the textures and flavors of every verbarian dish. As a reader, one enjoys being the guest rather than the chef. I think most readers become writers when they realize that writing the story can be just as pleasing to the literary palate as sitting down at another wordchef’s table. Perhaps more so because the one telling the story has the joy of inventing each scene to his/her own taste.
Imagine the meal: It begins with the summary appetizer: bold in flavor and promising better courses to come. The salad is the intro: pert, crisp. The plot opens like thick slices of a warm, crusty, herbed baguette. Perhaps the style has a nutty, quirky quality, like the cheese accompanying the bread, or perhaps it has a smooth, sophisticated approach, like roasted garlic truffle oil. The personalities of the characters are revealed in tantalizing spoonfuls, like the soup. Then the conflict, the entrée, is set before the reader. The drizzle of ambrosial sauce (like a simmering rivalry), the mouthwatering bursts of infused spices (perhaps the thrilling knowledge of an impending event in the story) make it evident the reader is now basking in the delicious splendor of the tale. The subplots bring variety and freshness, like a summer vegetable medley, and extend the anticipation. Now the turning point is expected, the dessert! The reader knows it will be accompanied by a tying up of all the loose ends, taking the form of a soothing beverage, like coffee (in my case you know I prefer tea).
What would you expect for dessert? Perhaps mousse or a crème brûlée? A delectable slice of Italian cream cake? What if a tube-like box labeled ‘apple pie’ was flopped down before the reader? What if the ending is like a microwaved, fast-food substitute?
There are stories like that.
It’s also how I feel about writing out my own story’s ending in the planning stage. Writing the skeleton outline of the conclusion looks like twice-warmed-over, faux-apple smoosh to me.
An ending is the result of the process. At its culmination it has to bloom naturally or it has the chance of becoming synthetic and lifeless. So, the end stays my secret. When I finally write it, I want it to contain the initial emotion of the final piece being fitted. Not that it won’t go through a gamut of rewrites, but the ending should be… saved for the end.
(Note to self: Never write while really hungry again.)