The Moment of Truth
Now we reach the moment of truth. Does your fiction achieve its desired result? You can only really tell this from completed works. Think of the number of works of fiction which you have read or seen or experienced in some way which you felt were faltering in some way during the story, but which managed to recover to produce some kind of fulfilment at the end; conversely, think of those works that seemed to be going along fine and then which failed to deliver the goods in the closing chapters.
These questions should help you judge where you are in terms of Fulfilment.
1. Do your readers quickly appreciate what your work ‘is all about’?
Ultimately, if your Ideas have survived the transition from within you to the hearts and minds of readers, your job is done.
You could just summarise an idea on a piece of paper and hand it to a reader, but as a fiction writer you have chosen to disguise what you want to say, or perhaps broaden it aesthetically into a message which cannot simply be summed up in words but which must be experienced using all the tools at your disposal. Readers have very little vocabulary, usually, for expressing whether or not they have understood what you had to say - they simply ‘love’ your book or they don’t. If they are a literary critic, they may try to put that appreciation into words or seek to explain how it was accomplished; more probably, though, you will hear details only from those who didn’t ‘get it’.
2. Are you able to deliver a powerful ending?
A ‘powerful ending’ means more than just an emotional one, though emotion plays a part. The power comes from the satisfactory culmination of a dozen different things that are going on in any successful story. A satisfactory ending in a story is similar to the completion of an engineering feat like the building of a bridge: if it has been built well, the bridge will take the strain of the traffic that wants to cross it; if there is a weakness, then readers will be wary and not want to take the risk of passing over.
A disappointing ending usually results when a writer has slipped up at some point during what is an otherwise well-constructed and emotionally powerful piece. We’ve all read novels like this: everything is going along fine, we are entertained and make a commitment to the work, and then suddenly there’s a mis-step - a character that shouldn’t have died at that point is killed; a scene strikes us as being emotionally inappropriate; an important plot point is left hanging. We can, as readers, 'patch this up' in our heads - and this is a significant ability and trait which comes to the fore when we have emotionally invested in a work - but our sense of fulfilment suffers: we know, deep down, that the work is flawed.
TV shows are prone to this. We follow episode after episode of our favourite programmes and then there’s 'that episode' where ‘that' happened - we don’t agree, we don’t like it, and we find ourselves 'self-editing' the show to some degree to get rid of the offending scene or event or character change or whatever it is. We carry on liking the show, we loyally watch the rest of the episodes - but from that point on we know it can never quite fulfil us in the same way.
3. Do you suffer from problems to do with the ending of the story?
How do you solve a problem connected to the climax of your tale?
In effect, you go back to before the beginning. Before the beginning was an Idea - perhaps vague, perhaps not quite properly thought out, but perhaps passionately desired or envisioned. Clarify that, and the way your ending comes together will also be clarified.
4. Do you set up the story well and then have trouble delivering?
A story that is running along well but heading for a dead end has taken a wrong turn somewhere. The scenery may be pleasant, but the journey is going to prove fruitless. And as a point to keep in mind, the ‘scenery’ of any truly worthwhile story is always better on the route towards a satisfactory ending.
5. Is it hard to see how to wrap the story up?
This can mean two things: either you are running into difficulties as outlined in # 3 and # 4 above, or you are not wanting to let go of a story.
This happens often with great fiction: a world has been created, wonderful characters have sprung to life, emotion has been evoked, and now the author feels that he or she has to kill the thing off. But the secret is that the death of a thing is part of its life: the ending of a tale is as much a portion of it as any other portion. Authors who recognise this take us to new heights of appreciation in their final scenes. It’s a maturity point: authors who can’t ‘let go’ haven’t yet plumbed the deaths of their own creation, and will find that, when they do, the thing has taken on new levels of meaning and will resonate with more people.
6. Do you have a number of ways of concluding the story?
This may not be a bad thing, depending on the kind of story you are writing. In an Irony, having a multiple ending can actually be an advantage. The key question to ask, as it is all along, is ‘What effect am I trying to create?’ Which ending then best achieves that effect?
7. Does your story conclude in such a way that readers have to work out their own ending?
Again, in an Irony, this is almost a requirement. Ironies often leave it up to the reader to complete the tale. As most Ironies end with a nightmare scenario, the reader is effectively asked to ‘rescue’ the situation by providing his or her own positive turn of events, or to leave things to degenerate further.
Comedies, Epics or even Tragedies, however, normally don’t hand this task to the reader. In fact, they lose power and credibility, normally, if they do.
8. Is your writing well known?
Fame is often a byproduct of being able to bring about successful Fulfilment of one kind or another. If you are already a popular writer who works are well-known, you must have mastered most of what is covered here. Chances are, though, that you struck on most of the elements of your success by accident or luck rather than by design or skill. You could reinforce your success by learning more about what made you successful.
9. Is your ending easily understandable even if it was translated into another language?
This is an indicator that you are ‘on message’ in terms of conveying your original idea or intention. It also means that you have probably not hampered yourself unnecessarily with stylistic elements as these do not normally translate well.
10. Is your writing universal (appealing to almost anyone)?
‘Universal appeal’ is an indicator of something. It means that your original idea or intention was so broad, so all-encompassing, so common to humanity, that it transcended potential obstacles of age, gender, culture and so forth. If you began from a platform so large, the only thing that could have gone wrong would be the implementation of that idea through a work of fiction: you could have messed up the characters, failed to provide attractive power, wasted emotional commitment, fouled up the plot or driven people away with your style, leading to little or no Fulfilment.
If you started big and kept all those channels open, on the other hand, then you are destined for greatness as an author.