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What Do Writers Know About Writing Anyway?

The always inquisitive Dave Truesdale asked a question at the TangentOnline news group about writers and endings.  He wanted to know, basically, what writers are thinking about when they write endings, and how much they control the kind of ending they write (I think this paraphrases it accurately--you can see his whole post here).  He's looking for a more specific explanation for certain kind of endings beyond what he wonders might be a cop out, "the story speaks for itself." 

I think that the urge to tell a story rather than state a meaning is because the "meaning" can't be related in any way other than a story. So, the question of "what did the ending mean" can sometimes only be answered with "the story speaks for itself." It's not a copout. The answer to the question is integral to the ending, and only the ending as it is can be the answer.

That doesn't stop the author from trying to explain it, if pressed, but the author's explanation will not have much more value than a lit professor's, a critic's, or Joe Blow's off the street since the author generally isn't there to provide an explanation.

I don't think I've ever thought consciously if one of my endings is "flashy," "artistic," "literary" or "one that supplies a more definite sense of closure."

Some stories feel better ending one way and some feel better ending the other.

I know this isn't a very satisfying attempt at an answer, but I think that despite all the things that writers know about craft, literary theory, writing for an audience, etc. that they're a little at a loss to answer the harder questions about their own work. At least that's the way it is for me.

Erskine Caldwell said, "I think you must remember that a writer is a simple-minded person to begin with and go on that basis. He's not a great mind, he's not a great thinker, he's not a great philosopher, he's a story teller."

I also like John Barth's quote, "You shouldn't pay much attention to anything writers say. They don't know why they do what they do. They're like good tennis players or good painters, who are just full of nonsense, pompous and embarrassing, or merely mistaken when they open their mouths."

 

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