I’ve been on a Monty Python jag of late. It began when I discovered, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut), a six-part documentary about the comedy troupe’s life and work. Being such a process junky, it was a treat listening to the Pythons discuss how they arrived at the concept for a style of comedy the Oxford English Dictionary now defines as Pythonesque. The main innovation, it turns out, was to use “only the good stuff.” That is, once they were out of funny things to say in a given idea, the writers would simply end it, without burdening the sketch with some creaky punch line. Thus all the collage animation, which were used for transitions, as well as the iconic, “And now for something completely different.”
One of the beauties of humor is that a laugh is a kind of beginning and end by itself. Humor inserted into a conversation that gets a good laugh has done its job, unlike an idea (school children should be made to wear uniforms) which requires exploration and explanation and then, preferably, a conclusion. A good joke contains within it an emotional completeness.
Stories can sometimes be viewed as a joke. The storyteller provides the needed information through the beginning and middle so that the end has its desired emotional conclusion. I know why the Pythons avoided endings to their sketches. True endings are the hardest parts of any story; true endings are where you must decide why it is you’ve taken your audience on this journey.
My own philosophy is this: how can I show that everything is all right? If that sounds overly simple, good. That’s exactly the point. But of course it is not so simple. Stories by necessity complicate things; stories by necessity put characters in situations that seem empirically not all right. The challenge then for the author is the same of any person in their daily life, to step back from the grisly details, to not complain, and to gain the broadest perspective possible.
I usually don’t have a definite idea of how to end my stories, only the abiding belief that everything is all right. For me, this is enough. It will only not be enough when my belief in the all rightness of things wavers. The gift to me in writing a true ending is being called back to my most authentic self, the only part of me I wish to share, the part that always reminds me that I am going to be all right.