One of the ideas that came up again and again throughout the class was the idea of reflection. We, as writers of our own stories, were asked to reflect on things that happened, rather than simply reporting on them. We were asked to describe the insight we gained through the experience. That's the supposed difference between memoir and autobiography, though often those two words are used to mean the same thing.
A woman mentioned that she had been working on her memoir for about 8 years prior to joining this class. She had written a couple hundred pages before she came to a stumbling block. She didn't know what to write next. Then, she said something that resonated, not only with the memoirist teaching the class, but also very much with me, a self-declared fiction writer. She said that as she was approaching the later part of her story, she realized that she either needed to stop writing, or she needed to evolve to make any sense of why her story was meaningful for her.
Stop or evolve.
What exactly does this mean?
Well, for the memoirist, it comes back to reflection. You know that the story you are writing is significant to you because of something. But, you might not know what that something is. To bring your story to a close, you either have to figure out that thing, or you have to admit that your story isn't ready to be completed yet. (That admission, might be totally okay, depending on where you are in your life.)
The same principle applied to me and my novel. Scott, Literary Lab co-author, read it awhile back, and he liked it...for the most part. Regarding the end, he said "it doesn't feel finished so much as sort of abandoned. I get the impression, actually, that there is something you are trying to imply but you aren't just coming out and saying, something important you won't tell me."
First off, I truly appreciate that Scott would be so honest with me. He is so honest a man. I'd had a dozen people read my book before him, and though I had sensed that something wasn't quite working for them, no one else had actually voiced the problem of the ending despite my annoying prodding. (Well, one person tried to, but he was being a bit too nice about it to break through my thick skull.) Scott, I hope you don't mind me quoting you and showing you for the critical monster you truly are.
But, the problem he saw, and the problem that this memoir class helped me to understand was that I had hit that point of having to stop or evolve. I had explored the life of my protagonist, a fictional representation of my father, and at the end that character needed to evolve if his story was going to reach closure. He could have evolved. The clues were there for him to get or not get--that's what I think Scott was experiencing when he sensed that I was trying to imply something. But, I hadn't actually taken my protagonist to that point of change. He was right up against it, and then he miraculously transported to the other side by the helpful hand of this tired author.
I had been fixing that as I was revising my book. (Thank you, Scott.) And, the classmate's simple phrase was the best way I have heard of that articulates this problem. I feel closer to an end of my book now. I've made some changes that required a tougher examination of my story and the people in it...and of myself.
So, stop or evolve. This is, for me, the first formalization of how to end a story that I've found to be useful.
Questions: Given that so many of you are genre writers, does this idea of investigating insight and having your characters evolve come into play? Does this evolution come up in every story? Should it?