As writers, we are lucky. We get to play with the worlds we create to make sure they conform to whatever “rules” we choose to apply. Leaving on a plane at 3:00 pm doesn’t work? Fine, just change it to a bus at midnight. Something new pops up in chapter thirty-one? No problem; go back and sprinkle hints of it in earlier chapters and the problem is solved.
Quite often we start a story, knowing exactly where we need it to go, then it takes us by the hand and shows us where it’s going to go, whether we like it or not. As we write, our characters become real and our worlds gain a measure of existence outside the confines of our minds. But it’s a malleable reality, one we have the option of changing at will. And what fun it is to do so.
But life isn’t like that. When something happens, it happens. There are no do-overs. Beginnings in life don’t always have well-set scenes, character development, plot elements, tension or the “hook” that makes you want to keep on going. On the contrary, all too often life’s beginnings are messy, confusing and just plain boring, though some are bright, straightforward and exciting.
But life’s endings are hard, fraught with sorrow and fear. They don’t feel like a well-structured wrap-up. They feel like loss and emptiness. And we can’t go back and erase things, or adjust events. Life is not malleable the way fiction is. It simply is life. It happens, we live through it, and if we’re lucky, we learn something valuable about ourselves and others along the way.
My brother, who died in 1972 at the age of twenty-one, wrote the following piece of philosophy. I didn’t find it until I was going through my mother’s things after she died in 2006. It amazed me that at such a young age he had such wisdom. I wish I’d known; I feel like I’ve lost even more than I did when he died. (See what I mean about life’s endings? That was a forty-two year-old hanging thread! You certainly couldn’t leave it dangling like that in fiction—and wouldn’t want to.)
But I realized his advice works both in life and in our writing. It’s all about endings and beginnings, and where the real truth of it all lies.
“The end is always a beginning. If an end becomes an end, you are not only refuting the nature of man, but you are also subjecting man to be dominated by history, which has no right to be the domineering force. Man can never be an end in himself, he must be the beginning for another person.” Edward Latchford Tuttle, Jr.
May all your endings be wonderful new beginnings, in life and in your writing.