Saturday, May 28, 2011

Endings Are Important, Too: THE LAST OLYMPIAN by Rick Riordan

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan, come on down.  You're today's contestant for "the endings" series, which is probably drawing to a close itself.  (For a little while, at least.  I'm feeling a little like a broken record.  Of course, if I don't actually think of anything to blog about or it's been a long time, I may spring one every once in a while.  Just to keep everyone on their toes.)

    But.  Like I was saying.  Here's the last bit to The Last Olympian:

        " 'Could be a problem for another generation of demigods," I agreed.  "Then we can kick back and enjoy.'
        She nodded, though she still seemed uneasy.  I didn't blame her, but it was hard to feel too upset on a nice day, with her next to me, knowing that I wasn't really saying good-bye.  We had lots of time.
        'Race you to the road?' I said.
        'You are so going to lose.'  She took off down Half-Blood Hill and I sprinted after her. 
        For once, I didn't look back."

    Now then.  Let the pondering begin.

    I think, overall, it was an okay ending.  Granted, it wasn't amazing, but I told myself I'd quit holding other endings up to Mockingjay's, which everyone's most likely sick of hearing about.  (Sorry.  I can't help it.) 

    By that point, everything had been wrapped up -- and one last flag had been raised.  Another prophecy, towards the end, which is what Percy and Annabeth were talking about in the excerpt.  According to my sister -- I haven't read the other series yet, because of a loyalty to "originals" and a dislike for spin-offs that basically translates into stubborness --, the new series is pretty good and still features some of the characters from the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.  Apparently, he had the other series in mind when he ended the first one.

    So, no fireworks or total amazement at this ending, but that's okay.  It'd really already taken care of all the big stuff by this point, and this chapter was the epilogue that tied up the loose threads blowing around.  It's one of those endings that a lot of books have -- the sort of peaceful, calm piece with something trivial and "normal" tacked onto the end.  In this case, it's the race. 

    However, the main point of interest here isn't the ending itself -- rather, it's the thread Riordan did leave hanging.  The prophecy, and Annabeth's almost foreboding unease about it.  I haven't seen a ton of books do something like that, so I have to say, it was a pretty nice touch. 

    Now that I've thought about it, I'll probably have to check on that other halfblood series sometime.  In the meantime, the question falls to you --

    The Last Olympian had a satisfying ending.  Real or not real?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Endings Are Important, Too: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling

Okay, so that was quite a title.  Moving on. 

    As you've probably noticed, this is a series on book endings.  Sooo . . . I'll be talking about book endings.  This little paragraph is just a disclaimer explaining that, so I don't have to mess with a "Spoiler Alert!" announcement every time I write one of these posts.  Sound like adequate warning?  Good. 

    Today, I'm going over Deathly Hallows.  J.K. Rowling cuts from the main wrap-up of the book to an epilogue set 19 years later.  In that epilogue, you learn that Harry and Ginny have three kids, who they're seeing off to Hogwarts.  The fates of a few other characters are revealed, Harry talks to his kid about a few of his own experiences at Hogwarts, skipping to the ending now --

        " 'He'll be all right," murmured Ginny.
        As Harry looked at her, he lowered his hand absentmindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead. 
        'I know he will.'
        The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years.  All was well."

    Maybe I expected too much, but this ending really didn't do it for me.  It seemed too abrupt, almost . . . I don't know.  Forced, maybe?  The words didn't flow, if you know what I mean.  Read the last two sentences out loud.  Is it just me, or do they seem sort of -- stilted?  

    The only Oprah episode I've ever watched was the one where she interviewed J.K. Rowling in Scotland.  There, J.K. explained that she'd originally intended the last word to be "scar," but something -- either she didn't mention it or I, you know, forgot -- made her change her mind.  Instead, she wanted the last line to be "All was well".  She did just that, but in some ways, I wonder if it would've been better if she'd stuck with "scar".

    Also, this is just personal opinion, but I generally don't like it when authors end series with a tell-all epilogue set a number of years later than the rest of the book, the rest of the series.  With Mockingjay, I wasn't 100% sold on the idea, but I've accepted it over time -- and that's the only book I actually like the post-story epilogue for.  But that's another post, isn't it?

    In her interview with Oprah, J.K. also talked about how she'd grown close to Harry -- understandable, since he's been her protagonist since 1990.  (Plus, you know, her stories of him catapulted her into fortune, fame, and writing legend.)  And after he'd been through so much, it makes sense that she'd want him to have a happy ending; she probably felt like a mom toward him, fictional character and all.  But sometimes, you just shouldn't give the obvious happy ending.  The series had plenty of darkness in it, so I feel like this ending should've had some, too.  Perhaps something not quite so positive, something a little more subdued, bittersweet?  Look at all the people (yeah, I always call characters "people") who died throughout the books.  I'm sure she could have referenced something to make the ending feel a bit more melancholy.

    Still.  I can't really call J.K. Rowling out for anything -- she's a genius, literary royalty, agreed?  I love tons of other stuff that she did with the series, and how she wasn't afraid to kill her darlings.  She deserves tons and tons of praise -- and she gets tons and tons of praise.  All I'm talking about here is the ending she wrote for the series, which, unfortunately, I wasn't all that impressed with.  Not when I really think about it.  Because if I had to make a list of the top endings, out of all the books I've ever read?  Deathly Hallows wouldn't make the cut.  And that's surprising, I think, considering the impact that Harry Potter and his adventures had on so many readers, on the world itself. 

    Agree?  Disagree?  Both?  Feel free to share your thoughts. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Endings Are Important, Too: MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

People are always talking about the importance of a book's beginning lines.

    Well, sure, that's definitely true.  I mean, what else is supposed to keep a person reading?  (I'd take a strong, interesting opener over a flowery weather forecast any day -- The rain slashed across her window pane.... Cliche alert! Cliche alert!)

    But no one ever really mentions how important the ending is. 

    I don't necessarily mean the general ending, what happens, but the last couple of lines.  Since that's the last thing you really take away from a book, I think it's just as important -- if not more, in some ways -- than the beginning.

   For me, the best ending line ever comes from Mockingjay, the third installment from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  (You probably shouldn't read on if you haven't read these books.  Also, you probably should read these books.)  But hey, the whole last piece is great, so I'll throw in the last two paragraphs.  It helps you get a better feel for the conclusion if you've never read it before, anyway:

     "I'll tell them how I survive it.  I'll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away.  That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've ever seen someone do.  It's like a game.  Repetitive.  Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.
    But there are much worse games to play."                       
   I really only need one word to sum this up:  Amazing.  The reference, of course, ties back with the title of the first book and a major plot point throughout the series.  It has a certain sense of finalty to it -- read it out loud.  Hear that unspoken "the end" quality it has?  That's what I'm talking about.  The whole section has a bittersweet mood going on, which I love, because that fits perfectly with the book, the series, the main character.  It somehow wraps up the beginning of the first book and the last thing, plot-wise, that's happened in the last book, and ties them together with some kind of grace and ease that I've never seen before in any other piece of writing. 

    Obviously, I'm in awe of Suzanne Collins' ending (even if she read the exerpt for Mockingjay's beginning with a hick accent -- I must be pretty forgiving).  In fact, I'm kind of wondering if she's even human, because the ending definitely wasn't. 

    Sometime soon -- probably tomorrow -- I'll go over another series' ending.  Maybe the seventh Harry Potter?  Anyway, what do you think is important for an ending?  Have any ending in particular that really strikes you?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Making Time

Long time, no posts.  Yeah, I'm painfully aware.  In my defense, though, things have been ridiculously crazy lately. 

    But after tomorrow, thanks to a little blessing called summer vacation, things are bound to get better.  More writing time, blogging time, family time . . . writing time . . . hey, maybe I'll even be able to see my desk again soon, without having to excavate a hand-sized tunnel.  Maybe.

    Still, for the past couple of weeks, any spare time has been pretty sparse for me, and my main writing time has been editing on the bus or in those snatches of class time where I've finished my work already.  As I'm sure you know, moments like those don't come often enough. 

    Anyway, I've been trying to figure out how I'm going to structure my writing time this summer, and it really makes me wonder:  how do other people do it?  What's the best way?  I'll have plenty of time for writing this summer, but once school starts again in the fall, time will crunch again, too.  In some ways, writing with school is worse than writing with work, because there always seem to be plenty of those days where all the teachers have plotted together to give you Guinness record-worthy loads of homework.  Of course, I'm sure writing with work won't be a walk in the park, either.

    So when summer's over, I'll need to have a system worked out.  I'm thinking the best thing is going to be having my plot figured out well enough that I can set deadlines for myself and won't waste time puttering around my storyline.  (Don't judge.  While I realize those last four words of the previous sentence make me sound like an old lady, I refuse to hit the backspace button.)  In doing so, I'll also be (theoretically) much more focused when I do get the chance to write, so I'll hopefully get more work done in whatever time I have.  I'll work through lunch.  Get up earlier, even though I'm usually not a morning person (I prefer not to speak to anyone for at least the first thirty minutes after I wake up.  My sister and I get in a lot of fights, because she's also a total bear in the mornings -- but if I'm getting up to write, I won't have to talk to anyone, will I?).  Also, I'm going to be ordering The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris any day now, and judging from the exerpt I read on Amazon and the feedback I've read online, that book will help, too. 

    To be honest, I don't have a ton of this worked out yet.  But one thing I do know:  there's never time.  For writing, for anything.  And there never will be. 
    Time's something you have to make.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing and Yearbook Photos -- The Connection

The first tornado warning of the season sent my sister and me into, well, something of a frenzy.  My parents tried telling us the worst weather would veer away from our area, but that didn't prevent us from packing up about half the stuff in our house.

    For the record, yes, this leads back to something writing-related.  Doesn't it always?

    In my scramble to gather everything I'd ever valued, I stumbled across my first *cough*story*cough*.

    After flicking through the pages (there were around forty before I finally either quit or lost the notebook), if there was any part of me that wasn't looking for a rock to hide under, it was probably laughing uncontrollably.

    It was awful.

    Like, really awful.  (I hate to admit this, but yeah, it was about a talking animal.  Worse -- a mouse, with references to The Cricket in Times Square and everything.)

    But hey, I was a third grader when I wrote it.  So I guess my transgressions verged on forgivable?

    I'd already found some of my other "stories" in tornado-roundup-mode, of course, any they were mostly pretty horrible.  (The unoriginal story lines, nonexistent plot, cliches . . . I won't scare you with the specifics.)

    The thing is, pulling out a piece of old writing is a lot like pulling out past yearbook pictures -- most of the time, you'll have forgotten just how bad it was. Typically, the older the writing (or picture), the worse you can expect it to be.

    But I don't think it's all bad news.  That just means your work will always improve, right?  Even after you find your voice, even after your writing itself has stabilized into some form of consistency -- the writing still improves.  Because what you write about, and how you execute it, will always be getting better and better.

    So all this is why, though my younger sister gave me the mocking of my life after reading about that little mouse, I have only one thing to say to the third-grade Jenna:

    Thank you.  A lot.  No, seriously.

    Okay, so maybe two things --

    Also, don't run into that column on the porch, because you'll mess up your knee and be confined to crutches for a few months, which we could both do without.

    But you get the idea.