3. Climax & After
It’s important to hit the right note on the last page. Although some strands may be ongoing, you still need to conclude this storytelling.
LOTR ends like a symphony, all boom and crash and subsiding echoes. But when you’re not closing off story and characters and a whole era of history, you need a lighter note.
I think of the distancing device that ends so many movies. The characters head off into the distance or the camera backs off from the characters—either way, the characters (and their story) become small within the wider panorama. Often, the camera also rises to look down.
There are similar ways to create an impression of ending in a novel. Literally, as when Ferren and Kiet watch a multitude of Morphs spiralling heavenward, higher and higher into the sky, at the end of Ferren and the Invasion of Heaven. Or psychologically, at the end of Worldshaker, where Riff goes off and leaves Col thinking:
Col sat on, gazing at the sky. A hundred questions tumbled through his mind. What would he find to do now that the Revolutionary Council was running the juggernaut? How they would get coal from the coaling stations? What would they do for trade? How would the other juggernauts react to the news of the revolution?
Yet those were only small questions compared to the mystery of Riff and her elusive grin. What did it mean?
He had the feeling that life would never be predictable again. It was strange that she could make him feel so good and at the same time so insecure. How could he ever know where he was with her?
‘I guess I’ll have to put up with not knowing,’ he muttered to himself. And suddenly the thought didn’t seem so bad at all.
It’s the reverse of the 19th century epilogue—here, the future is completely uncertain. At the same time, though, it’s a panoramic view that leaves the immediate situation behind, a rising up and distancing. Or, the kind of summary you have when you’re not having a summary.
A note of humour can work too. If humour detaches the reader from emotional involvement, maybe that’s also a form of distancing. Here are the last few lines of The Heavy Crown, the last book in the Wolf Kingdom quartet:
Hooley Dan gave Chiz another thump on the shoulders. ‘Wonderful! So you all have a family—and I have my advisers!’
‘We may not be very good advisers,’ said Tam.
But a voice piped up at once in his mind. Speak for yourself, said Berkiss. I shall be an excellent adviser. You only have to pass on my knowledge.
Agger Dagger piped up too. We serve great Cazar! We do heroic duty!
Only Bella didn’t have much to say. Zzzzzz. Zzzzzz. Zzzzzz. She had gone back to sleep again.
That’s a sort of deliberately flip, sidestep sort of ending, nipping off the storyline with a tweak.
Here's another, the final note of Song of the Slums. This is the disappearing into the distance ending, where we stay watching as the (main) characters walk off:
[Astor] wrapped her arm round [Verrol's] waist; he wrapped his arm round hers. Side by side, they walked off between miniature hedges, manicured lawns, flowerbeds and ornamental ponds.
The guards remained in the doorway, shaking their heads in disbelief.
'How could they?'
'Turning down an OBE!'
'They must be mad.'
'They can't get out anyway.'
But they could. The bars of the railings were still bent out of shape where the street kids had forced them apart. Astor and Verrol slipped through a gap and onto the street outside. Hansom cabs rattled past, a streamlined velocipede and a couple of basketwork rickshaws.
They paused just long enough to circle arms round each other's waists again. Then they turned to the right and sauntered off, disappearing in the direction of the river.
So many different ways to do it!