Episode 34: Transcript
Transcription by Keffy
Charlie Jane: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about the meaning of science fiction. I'm Charlie Jane Anders, a science fiction writer who thinks a lot about science.
Annalee: [00:00:08] And I'm Annalee Newitz, a science journalist who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:13] Today we're going to be talking about how to write a good ending for a story or a book or a movie or a TV show. Obviously, it's a time of endings. Avengers End Game just came out, Game of Thrones just ended. A bunch of other things are ending soon, like Arrow and the Star Wars movies. So, it's a great time to talk about how to do an ending that makes people feel happy about the story they just sat through.
Annalee: [00:00:34] Or makes them feel sad in a productive way.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:36] Yeah, makes them feel appropriately sad.
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Charlie Jane: [00:01:06] So Annalee, why do people care about endings so much? Why do people act as though the ending is like the most important part of the story?
Annalee: [00:01:13] So, I have a pretty unpopular opinion about this, which is that I don't personally care that much about endings. Of course, I love a good ending the way any of us would. I'm more of a middles person. I really like it when a story has a great arc and when we can really see that set up early in the story and it kind of follows through. And then for me, you know, as long as an ending isn't terrible, I'm fine.
[00:01:37] But I think that the reason why people are so obsessed with endings is because that's where you're left at the end of the story. You know? And even if it's a series, you know that's something you're going to kind of have to hold with you as you leave the theater or set the book down or put the comic book aside. And so, people talk a lot about things like, did the ending give us a good payoff, you know, or was it a good twist?
[00:02:01] And again, I am totally not a fan of twist endings, but I appreciate that others are interested in them. And so, I think that it's really because that's the place that we’re left. And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about some of the ways that people get kind of upset about endings. Like what are the kinds of—I'm not the expert because of course I don't really care that much about endings. What are the things that you hear from people or that people talk about when they're like, this ending totally sucked?
Charlie Jane: [00:02:26] I think that people generally don't like an ending if it feels unearned or if it feels like it didn't kind of answer the questions that they thought were going to be answered.
Annalee: [00:02:37] Yeah, that's true.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:38] And, if it left you with a lot of questions that you're like, okay, I thought that this story was leading up to telling us X, Y, or Z, and instead it just kind of left us hanging.
[00:02:49] And I think people get annoyed when they feel like there was something that they were supposed to find out at the end, or if they feel like a particular character kinda got shafted either through not getting any resolution, just kind of being left floating there.
Annalee: [00:03:02] The old thing of a character just kind of disappearing, basically.
Charlie Jane: [00:03:05] Yeah, or they're there at the end, but they just didn't get any resolution to their storylines. They didn't get any closure, let's just say. Or they got resolution in a really crappy way. Like, all of a sudden this character who was really cool and interesting just does something kind of uncharacteristic or weak. Or, just becomes somebody’s love interest at the end or kind of flubs it so that some other character can become bad ass.
[00:03:28] You know, it's really important as writers, as creators, to think about how for most people it's really about the characters and it's really about forming emotional connections with these characters.
[00:03:36] Most of the time, I think, even if people say that they're upset about some other aspects of the ending, what they're really upset about is that their character that they care most about didn't get the resolution that they wanted or didn't get a strong enough resolution. Didn't get something that felt fitting for that character.
Annalee: [00:03:51] That is so true. And now that I've sort of said that I don't care about endings, I will mention an ending that always has pissed me off and maybe this is, it pisses me off partly because it's a middle, which is in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. The first novel in that trilogy, which was made into a film, The Golden Compass, the main character is a young woman named Lyra who has magical powers and makes friends with bears and like basically saved the universe and is super badass. And in the second and third books, the “resolution” for her plotline is, oh, she's not the main character in anymore.
[00:04:26] Now the main character is a boy who is carrying a knife around. Like literally the second book is The Subtle Knife. Then the story becomes all about this boy and his knife and all that Lyra gets to do is like have sex with him at some point in the third book. And I was like, that is the worst resolution for one of my favorite characters. You know, like she just… not only is she just randomly shunted to the side, like why, we don't know, like she was the hero, but suddenly she's not. And then as you were kind of enumerating things that people don't like, you know, a character becoming a love interest who had previously been the hero. It was just so annoying to me. It is kind of an ending for her character. And it's also, like I said, it's sort of in the middle of the series that this happens.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:08] Yeah. And when you think about a great ending, like my favorite ending is still the ending of Blake’s 7, the British TV show of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. And I'm going to just spoil it for everybody. So spoiler alert, at the end of Blake’s 7, basically it ends with Avon, the kind of dark anti-hero hacker character killing Blake, who is the kind of idealistic shining knight character who's been very tarnished by this point.
[00:05:31] And that moment comes out of everything that we've seen with those characters over the course of four seasons. Well, mostly with Avon because Blake kind of disappears for the show at some point. It grows out of everything we've seen from those characters the whole time. Avon’s paranoia, Blake's paranoia, actually. They've both become really paranoid and their inability to trust each other, which was a huge issue in earlier episodes, kind of comes to a head and leads to Avon basically having a choice of whether to shoot Blake or trust Blake and he just shoots Blake.
[00:05:59] And then I believe that Avon dies at the end. Some people don't believe that, but I think that it's a very dark ending, but it's ending that feels very earned and I love an ending like that. I love an ending that's basically like all of these character interactions over the course of this thing have led up to this kind of awful thing that happens and you know I'm a sucker for that kind of ending. I like a dark ending. I also love a happy ending or an ending that just is tear jerking. Like Pixar movies are famously good at making you cry your face off in the last 15 minutes because they just make you care about these characters so much and then they make it look as though the characters are not going to be happy or they're going to be killed. Are they going to be burned in an incinerator in the case of Toy Story 3. And then you're just like, no! No! These characters, I care about them and no!
Annalee: [00:06:44] That makes me think about, you know, because of animation. So orthogonally, Lego Movie had a great ending.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:51] Oh yeah, it did.
Annalee: [00:06:52] That was a really fun… And that was actually a type of ending that in other stories doesn't always work. When it gets really meta and it's like, and now we're outside the story, kind of thing. But it worked great and it actually completely enhanced the main plot, which is the kind of imaginary plot. I mean we discover it's the imaginary plot because now we know it's a little kid who's kind of telling the story in his head.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:15] Right.
Annalee: [00:07:15] But it was so satisfying and also really moving. It really brought in—
Charlie Jane: [00:07:18] It was super moving.
Annalee: [00:07:18] —it was like, it's very rare for a story to go meta and keep the feelings and the emotions intense. So, that was lovely.
[00:07:28] I'm going to mention another ending that's terrible, which was the ending to the Battlestar Galactica series, the more recent series. I actually don't even know how the original series ends.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:38] I think it just doesn't, I think it just, it goes… it turns into Galactica 1980. They end up on earth in 1980.
Annalee: [00:07:42] Another bad ending.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:42] They fly around on earth on, like, flying motorcycles.
Annalee: [00:07:47] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:47] They give a kid mind control, powers so he could mind control his classmates.
Annalee: [00:07:51] Which actually would have been better than the ending of the series where it's like everything was really just kind of like daddy and mommy issues—
Charlie Jane: [00:08:00] Or, something.
Annalee: [00:08:00] —and we never really had a plan. So that's actually a classic example of what you were saying because—Talking about an unearned ending because, or an ending where we think we're going to get something and we don't because one of the premises is that it a—
Charlie Jane: [00:08:14] Premises, yeah.
Annalee: [00:08:15] One of the premises of Battlestar Galactica is that the Cylons have a plan and they're executing the plan and it's mysterious and scary. And certainly in the first couple of seasons we feel like we're learning what that plan is and we're meeting more Cylons and we're kind of learning more about their civilization.
[00:08:31] And then by the end it is abundantly clear that the writers had no fucking clue what they were going to do, which now they've kind of admitted. Like some of the writers including Ron Moore had been like, well, we kind of said like, we had a plan because it sounded good in the marketing materials. And I can understand doing this as a writer. They just figured, okay, well we'll come up with something. And they just didn't. And you know what they ended up coming up was unearned, really random. They kind of threw in the whole like, you know, oh actually this is the prehistory of humanity thing, which is a classic way that writers just kind of drop the ball.
[00:09:08] In comics it's called retcon, a retroactive continuity. And it's usually when you're grasping at straws for what the hell is going on in a storyline. The idea is that, you know, here we couldn't figure out what was going on. So we just sort of claim that all of Battlestar Galactica is the prehistory of humanity and like that that'll be an ending because it feels profound. It somehow feel—like fill in the profundity here. Totally unearned.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:34] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:09:34] Like literally, there's maybe a few teensy tiny little bits of hints that that could be true but not really.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:41] It felt very weak sauce. And like one thing I always say is live by the sword, die by the sword. And I think that if you kind of overinvest in mysteries and clues and the rabbit hole, which by the way should have cute rabbits in it.
Annalee: [00:09:54] For sure.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:54] Like a certain movie that, I won't mention the name of it cause that's a spoiler. But you know, if you're going to have a rabbit hole, it should have rabbits in it. If you basically decide that you're going to stake everything on clues and hints and questions and like, ooh—
Annalee: [00:10:08] A plan.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:08] What does this glyph mean? What do these numbers mean? What's at the bottom of this thing? You better be prepared to give all of that a satisfying resolution. But also—
Annalee: [00:10:17] I'm looking at you right now, Westworld, I am looking at you.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:23] Oh my God, yeah. Well they still have a… probably like seven or more seasons to figure that stuff out.
Annalee: [00:10:28] But I mean they're not I, my confidence levels are low. I hope they pull it out, because that’d be amazing.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:33] But if you live according to that stuff then that's what you're setting people up to be interested in. And one of my rules of thumb has always, again, getting back to what I said before, even if people say they're upset about it for some other reason, it's usually comes down to the characters. And in the case of Battlestar Galactica, I really cared about Starbuck. Starbuck was the character I cared about the most and they killed her in this way that felt really unsatisfying. Then they brought her back from the dead and this way that felt kind of just like, you know, out of left field. And it was like, then we had this long period of trying to find out why she'd come back from the dead and she was crying and playing the piano a lot and it was really hard to watch after a while.
[00:11:07] And I was like, okay, well this is going someplace where it's going to pay off for her character, specifically. We're going to get not only an explanation of how she came back from the dead, but also a sense of what this has meant to her as a person. And then in the end she just vanished into thin air. And it's not just that we don't get an explanation, it's also that I don't feel like we get a satisfying emotional payoff for what the frack that was about.
Annalee: [00:11:30] That is a classic example of a terrible, terrible way to deal with the characters. Like, oh, she just vanished. It’s like, what? It's almost like they're trying to act out what a bad ending is like. Like it's almost a parody at that point.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:47] [crosstalk at Z.Z Top?]
Annalee: [00:11:46] Yeah. Which, Iwas going to say as a counter example to that kind of character arc question, the first season of Game of Thrones, which, you know, people have talked about this ad nauseum, but it's true that the killing of Ned Stark at the end of that season is earned.
[00:12:00] His death is meaningful. It illuminates a lot of different character arcs and it sets in motion, you know, everything that happens subsequently. And so I feel like that's—like Blake’s 7—that's a really great kind of ending, where there's, you know, death and a character that you love is kind of eliminated. But at the same time, it's in the service of the story. And of course that isn't really the ending. Again, I keep making middles into endings, but it's the ending of that season. It's the ending of an arc.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:28] It’s the season finale, which kind of turns into an ending. There is a thing where sometimes you have a perfect ending and then you just keep going, which I… which happened with Supernatural. I still love Supernatural sometimes, but the ending of season five was clearly meant to be the end of the show and it was a great ending to the show.
Annalee: [00:12:45] Sure was.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:45] And then they just were like, we'll do another 20 seasons. Which you know, it's had some wonderful bits since then, but I'm just like, you know, you had a perfect ending and then you just kept going and like I worry about that with Steven Universe because Steven Universe had a perfect ending.
Annalee: [00:13:00] Yeah, that was another. The wedding was so fantastic.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:03] It was a perfect ending and now the show is going to continue and I'm like, I hope you know what you're doing.
Annalee: [00:13:07] My favorite example of a movie that had a perfect ending that then just kept going and ruined everything for me was the movie AI, Artificial Intelligence, which, spoilers for a rather old film. The perfect ending is a very ambivalent and sort of dark ending where the main character David, who is an android but is a sentient, fully realized human being is looking for the blue fairy.
[00:13:34] He's heard that there's this magical, semi-magical robot who can kind of help him in his quest to be reunited with those people that he loves and his mom and stuff. And eventually at the—what should have been the ending, he finds the blue fairy underwater and she's just a toy basically. She's not even a toy. She's a statue from a, probably from Disneyland or something like that. And he's just sitting there staring at her and it's just this incredibly beautiful sad moment of like an artificial boy looking into the eyes of an artificial woman and realizing… who knows what he's realizing. Right.
[00:14:09] And then frickin’ Steven Spielberg slaps on this whole ending where is kind of reunited with his mom in heaven and there's like all this other crap and it's, I know it's not really heaven, it's like some AI simulation of heaven and it is literally the worst. And like if you ever watched that film, what you should do is watch the film, which is genuinely amazing. It's actually a fantastic meditation on what it means to be an artificial being and to have your emotions manipulated and then stop when he meets the blue fairy, and then you're done. And it's all good.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:43] Sage advice. So, the thing about stuff paying off like I think is actually meaningful because I think that a good story kind of sets things up slowly over the course of the story and kind of gives you like a little down payments or whatever. Or it gives you a little promissory notes that like, hey, pay attention to this thing. It's going to be important eventually. And like, eventually you get to the end and that stuff either kind of comes to fruition or it doesn't.
[00:15:07] And I think that part of what creators have to be mindful of is the stuff that they kind of layer in that I think a good ending is supported by the rest of the story and a bad ending is not supported by the rest of the story.
[00:15:18] And you know, I think Joss Whedon was brought to be the script doctor on the movie Waterworld and they were like, we just need to fix the third act. And Joss Whedon was like, no it's everything in the first two acts that leads up to the third act that is broken. And that's why the third act is not going to work because you don't set up any of this stuff that you're trying to have happen in the end of the movie. And you know, of course he fixed Waterworld and it was great. The end.
Annalee: [00:15:41] I actually have a soft spot in my heart for Waterworld. It's not as bad as people say. All right, we're going to take a quick break and when we get back we're going to talk about how to land your story well and partly that's by signaling what's coming next.
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Annalee: [00:16:07] So Charlie Jane, you have written a lot of writing advice. Back when we were at io9, you wrote a great column where you gave a lot of good writing advice. And I have sucked a lot of advice out of your brain over the years. And so now you're going to talk to our avid listening audience about some of this stuff with endings. So, you were just saying that a big part of having that ending that works and earning that ending is kind of these signposts that you put up throughout the story. So can you talk a little bit more about that and maybe some stories that do a good job of—I mean signposting the ending makes it sound kind of bad, like you're kind of like waving a thing around, but how do you give those hints about where the story is going to land so that the reader, when they get there, feels like, oh wow, all this stuff I saw before is like coming to fruition.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:55] Yeah, I mean, I’m not really talking about foreshadowing per se. I'm not really talking about like giving actual hints about what the ending is going to be or giving actual kind of sign posts. What I am talking about is what you tell them the reader to care about.
Annalee: [00:17:08] Yes. That’s a greally good distinction.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:10] And what you tell the reader to care about is generally the stuff that you have to then provide a resolution to in the ending. And you have to be careful about that because obviously readers are wily critters and they're… It's like herding cats. You can tell them all you want to care about X, Y, and Z. But if they see a shiny thing over here that catches their interest, they'll start caring about that and then—
Annalee: [00:17:33] They're going to care about what they care about.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:34] They're going to care about what they care about. But you can control what you are actively encouraging them to care about and what you spend time on. And if there are certain characters who you spend a lot of time developing that they have a certain issue or a certain conflict or a certain problem or something that you know they're dealing with. Giving some kind of resolution to that, giving some kind of solution to their problem or some kind of closure to that issue is probably going to be important in your ending or in your denouement.
[00:18:03] But I think that the more that you kind of encourage people to worry about a particular thing or particular person, the more that you need to kind of be mindful of that in the ending and vice versa. If you have an ending where you're like, well, I want to have an ending where it's really about these two characters doing stuff and like it's about, it all turns on their relationship between these two different characters, then that has to be something that we see built up throughout the story.
[00:18:24] And I think that often where stories fall down is that the ending kind of relies on stuff that the author or the creator didn't kind of actively push us to care about throughout the story.
[00:18:37] I also think another way to think about endings is just to think in terms of like what's changed. The writer guidelines for the magazine Zoetrope always used to say that the characters shouldn't be the same. Toothpaste is… you squirt it out of the tube at the start or whatever. I can't… you can’t get the toothpaste back into the tube, basically, I guess is what they were saying. Point is they're not the same people at the end of the story that they were at the start of the story.
Annalee: [00:18:59] They're just kind of dried toothpaste. At that point.
Charlie Jane: [00:19:02] Dried toothpaste. Yeah, exactly. They’re getting gunky, they're kind of soaking into your grout. Basically, a good ending is the one where your characters just end up mixed into your grout.
Annalee: [00:19:10] So, Charlie Jane, you were saying that this isn't really about foreshadowing or signposting, which I thought was a really good point. How do you kind of gently lead a reader to care about something? Is it through, you know, featuring a character more? Is it through kind of, you know, metaphorical or kind of symbolic moments or you know what I mean? Like is it sort of you develop a theme throughout the story that kind of pays off or, or is it all of that?
Charlie Jane: [00:19:36] I think it's theme, I think it's conflict. I think it's like the conflicts that we invest in. I think characters aren't interesting unless they have conflict, unless they have something that they're struggling with, that they want, that they can't have or that they're trying to figure out. If they're torn between more than one thing, like they're torn to between two different things that they care about. Anything where characters are kind of like struggling with a conflict, that leads itself to you wanting to see a resolution to that.
[00:20:01] And I think that one of the things that I always talk about in general in my writing advice is intentionality. Like the idea that you need to kind of have in the back of your mind what it is that the story's about for you. What personal experiences of your own or people you know that you're drawing on? How it kind of relates to stuff that you have experienced in real life? How it kind of relates to themes or ideas or questions or problems that you kind of grapple with in your own mind and like what are you trying to get at with this story? What are you trying to poke at? What's the point of this story?
[00:20:39] And once you know that you can kind of keep coming back to that. That can be like the lodestone that you keep coming back to. That kind of energizes the characters and the themes and the conflict. And having individual characters who are struggling with a particular thing that's really powerful and often that can really shape the overall conflict of the book. If you have one person who has a really compelling thing that they're grappling with and the more compelling that is, the more you're going to want to focus on it. Because as the writer, you get interested in writing about that.
[00:21:08] And then again, it's just a matter of finding, you know, a way to resolve that in a way that makes you feel like this character has either found what they're looking for or they realized that they didn't really want what they were looking for.
[00:21:19] Actually, the first Wreck It Ralph is a great example of this. The first Wreck It Ralph movie, he really, really, really wants that hero medallion that basically is going to say that he's a hero and he thinks that that's the thing that's gonna make him a hero. And so he does all these selfish, kind of messed up things throughout the course of the movie that cause a lot of trouble. He unleashes like these monsters from this one game that he started attacking all these other games.
[00:21:44] And in the end he has this kind of epiphany where he kind of realizes that actually being a hero isn't just getting handed a medallion and that maybe he doesn't want that kind of simplistic affirmation or heroism. He wants something deeper and more meaningful and he needs to accept his role in the game that he's in, but he also needs to become less selfish.
[00:22:04] And it's really powerful because the film has kind of shown us really how he's—shown us his desire to get that thing that he wants and his struggle to get it. And then, by the end he doesn't want it anymore because he's realized he actually really wants something else that's more important. And you know, another great Disney animated film that came out around the same time that I think about a lot is Frozen, where basically in the end it's not about finding true love or whenever. It's about these two sisters rediscovering their love for each other. And I thought that that was like actually a really beautiful way to kind of turn it around. The key to freeing Elsa from her curse is finding love, but it's the love of her sister. I thought that was beautiful.
Annalee: [00:22:45] I was thinking as you were talking about how… about the sort of question of developing a theme and I'm reading Becky Chambers novel, A Closed and Common Orbit, which is the sequel to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
[00:23:00] And I was thinking about how in that first novel, I haven't finished the second one, so I can't talk about the ending, but I was thinking about how in the first novel, what's so satisfying about the ending, and it does have a really satisfying ending, is that we're introduced to a main character who is fleeing from a horrific situation in her family. And because she has certain kinds of skills, she's able to trick her way into the crew of a spaceship that's basically a kind of, it's a working-class crew and their job is to punch holes in space to make kind of wormholes kind of.
[00:23:33] And so they're kind of like truckers or road builders in a sense. And it's a group of motley aliens who all have kind of a backstory. And at first the story is really just about her. This main character, you know, fitting into the crew and learning the technology. And like we're kind of excited by the space technology and as the novel goes on and as we organically come to know the characters, she really starts to become close with them and they become a family. And by the end of the novel, there's this fully earned ending where there's a resolution to the plot around some hijinks around building this wormhole they're trying to build, you know, so we've had this kind of fun technical arc where it's like, can we do it? There's this whole adventure, but also by the end she's gained this new family and she starts with having lost a family.
[00:24:22] And so we get this beautiful character resolution, which is incredibly heartwarming because Becky Chambers, she's great at space tech and she's also just great at writing really warm friend relationships between aliens. Which is a skill. I love interspecies inter-alien relationships. And so she really like, it really pays off because there's this kind of technical sci-fi hijinks payoff. And then there's also this like emotional arc that's resolved. And then that's continued in the story, in subsequent novels in the series.
[00:24:54] Yeah, I think that's a great example of it's an ending that is not signposted but is thematically tagged throughout the story. Like we kind of have these emotional beats where she's looking for a family and kind of finding the family.
[00:25:07] I have a question for you, and I suspect that this kind of varies for lots of people, but do you have an ending in mind when you start writing a story or a novel?
Charlie Jane: [00:25:15] Not usually. I mean, I wish I did. I wish I did. Because I think that would be way easier. Although if I did, I probably would change my mind by the end anyway.
Annalee: [00:25:23] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:25:23] You know, that's the risk. Personally with short stories and with novels. I usually, what happens is, I get about halfway through writing it and like right at the midpoint, I start to think about ways that it could end. And I start to kind of grope my way towards that. And you know, oftentimes part of what happens is you write the first draft and you grapple with it and grapple with it and grapple with it. Part of my process as a writer is that I'll open like a Word doc and just spew several thousand words of just like me asking myself what the fuck is going on in this story? What are these characters actually thinking at this point in the story? What would it make sense for them to do from their perspective? What am I trying to do? Why am I even writing this thing? What's the point of any of this?
[00:26:05] And I'll just start to grope my way towards thinking about like where this is going and try to think a few steps ahead and maybe try to glimpse the ending. But at some point, I'll have an ending in mind and when I get there and I write that ending, then the hard part starts, which is once you have the ending that you feel is the right ending, the good ending, you have to go back and make the rest of the book lead up to that ending. Like, basically, that's the trick. Is to find the ending that seems like it actually kind of fits with what you've been trying to write, and then you have to go back and change everything else or at least shore up everything else to make it kind of support that ending.
[00:26:41] And I think that that is a way to think about the rest of the book. Is basically like, okay, well in the end this character kills this character. So, we have to be able to believe that that would happen. But also to be surprised when that happens and we have to care about both of these characters so that when one of them kills the other, we're actually sad about it.
[00:26:58] And I think that that's part of the battle is like just once you know that the ending hinges on X, Y and Z, making sure that you have given people a reason to care about X, Y, and Z and also to, to see enough of what's going on with them. To believe that that's where they would end up.
Annalee: [00:27:14] And also that your world building kind of supports that ending. Which to go back to picking on Battlestar Galactica because it's… It's an easy target. I mean, it really is. And especially because it was so disappointing because it started so well. Like, it was a show that I loved, you know, and so I should say that I am saying this with love. But like, that ending, you know, was there was nothing in the world building of the show that really supported that ending. And I'm sure some fans would disagree with me, but come on, it was really unearned and it felt like it was not even a twist. It was just literally like, they're like, I dunno, like, well, let's just say it was this all along. And it's like, but if it was that all along than it should've been that all along. There should have been all these hints. Like all along that these were the prototypes of Homo sapiens.
[00:28:00] So anyways, I actually usually have an ending in mind when I start a story or a novel. The novel that I just finished, which is coming out in September, I had the middle in mind before I had the ending. But before I started writing, I knew what the ending was going to be. And that's because it was a time travel novel. And those are very plotty.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:17] Oh yeah.
Annalee: [00:28:16] And so I feel like I had to have some sense of the plot before I started. I mean, it changed a lot and the ending is definitely not exactly how I imagined it, but I knew I was leading up to a specific kind of twist. Um, twist-y. It's not really that twisty, but like there's a little bit of a twist, you know? And it was the same thing for a lot of the short stories that I've done where I kind of start going like, all right, we're going to this place. How do we get there? But then I still have to go back and rewrite it because of course it never turns out quite the way you think.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:48] Yeah. And you know, part of why people care so much about endings is cause it's your last chance to tell the reader or the viewer or whatever, what they have been sitting here for. What they’ve sat through. What's all that's been about? Why did you just read 500 pages of this stuff? Why did you just sit through three hours of this movie? What was this about? Why was this worth my time? And the ending is kind of your chance to kind of make a final argument almost. If you're thinking of it as a courtroom thing, it’s your chance to make a final argument to the jury as to why they should find your story innocent of sucking I guess, or why they should, why they should, you know, kind of buy into whatever your story was trying to get them to buy into.
[00:29:23] I like an ending that is kind of stark and simple. This morning I kind of got sucked into reading about my favorite film ending of all time, which is not science fiction, but The Third Man, which is a movie based on a Graham Greene tory I think. And I think Graham Greene actually wrote the original script and spoiler alert, the final shot of The Third Man is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
[00:29:44] It's basically this dude who's just been to this funeral of this guy that I guess he killed, waiting by his car and this woman walks towards him and then walks past him and walks away. And he’s sort of expecting her to come and get in the car with him, or whatever. And she just ignores him and walks past him and walks away.
[00:30:03] And it's a really long shot and it's incredibly beautiful and it's really hard. Just stabs you right in the heart. And Graham Greene, who wrote the script really wanted to have a happy ending. He wanted to have an ending where basically they embraced and then she goes with the guy and he was like, this movie, it's a light entertainment movie. People aren't going to be here for a downer ending. We can't pull that off.
[00:30:25] And they were like, no. They basically put their foot down against Graham Greene who usually is like brilliant about this stuff. And they were like, no, we want the downer ending. And it's one of the most powerful endings ever made. And if it had been the kind of cop out ending where it just ends with like them making out or whatever, it would have been horrible. It would have been just like, what, why did we sit through like three hours of this if it's just going to end that way.
Annalee: [00:30:48] Yeah. I love an ambiguous ending or a bittersweet ending.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:51] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:30:51] Martin Scorsese's version of The Age of Innocense, which is an Edith Wharton novel. I'm a Scorsese fan and I love heron hat, historical dramas. So, but that ends—spoiler alert for a hundred-year-old novel—with these two characters who were in love as young people and they’re… now they've reached their senior years, they're still both completely hot because it's a movie and they have an opportunity to meet again and they choose not to.
[00:31:21] Like, they almost kind of meet. And there's this bittersweet moment where, the male character sends his son up to meet the woman that he once loved. And, there's all kinds of reasons why that's super earned and it's just this beautiful moment of like, and then we turned away. And you think they're going to turn toward each other, but actually they know that they can never recreate what had existed between them. And it's better to have their memories than to try to like meet again.
[00:31:46] And, I mean I'm sure there's like a fanfic version where they finally get to hump, which would be lovely, too. But I love that kind of quiet, ambiguous resignation moment. So to conclude our episode about endings, how would you like to end Charlie? Like, do you have some final thoughts, some ending thoughts?
Charlie Jane: [00:32:07] Yeah, I mean, I think that it's good to leave the reader with questions as long as they're not, like questions that feel central to the work. If you've been all along having been having kind of shoved in people's faces, the question of like, what's at the bottom of the rabbit hole? And then you don't show them what’s at the bottom of the rabbit hole—
Annalee: [00:32:23] Who is the mysterious corporation behind all of this?
Charlie Jane: [00:32:25] Yeah, exactly. The usual thing of like just shoving questions in their face and then not giving them answers. That's not gonna work. If you leave them still wondering about that stuff—
Annalee: [00:32:33] I would just like to point out that this is a sub tweet of J.J. Abrams.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:38] Aw, I love a lot of his style.
Annalee: [00:32:40] I do too, but he has that problem of asking…
Charlie Jane: [00:32:42] I’ve love huge amounts of J.J. Abrams. The mystery box. I mean, he’s talked about. He loves the mystery box. There's a school of thought that says that like for example, in Pulp Fiction where they have the glowing suitcase full of stuff and you'd never find out what's in it, like that it's better to just not know. But I think that if you were encouraging people to want to know the answer, if you're shoving it at them, people are gonna expect to pay off.
[00:33:04] But if you have something where it's just like questions that are not central to the work, questions that are just sort of kind of peripheral, it's okay to leave people kind of able to come up with their own answers. It's okay to leave people wondering what happens next.
Annalee: [00:33:17] Yes.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:18] Part of the joy of reading or really even being an audience member for any kind of a fiction is doing some of the work yourself doing some of the imaginative labor yourself of imagining what happened in between this scene and that scene or what happened off screen between these two different characters. People like to do some of the heavy lifting themselves cause it's fun and that's why we have fan fiction.But that's also just why people enjoy kind of living in a world. And I think leaving people with some of the work undone, as long as it's not like the main work, leaving people able to kind of just think in their own heads about like what, what do I think happened next? Where do I think this is going for these characters, is okay. As long as you've given them enough clues that they've can do that.
[00:34:00] And I also think that a good ending kind of… this is something that Patrick Nielsen Hayden taught me a little bit. A good ending kind of ends with… like a piece of music. It kind of, you have the crescendo but then it kind of… just like any piece of music either kind of ends with like a little graceful coda or it kind of ends with a big thunder. You have to think of it as like you're bringing a piece of music to an end. And I think that that's something that I think about a lot in my head is like that I'm writing music except that I have not, it's not as good as actual music because you know, people can't make mashups with it.
Annalee: [00:34:34] Yeah. I mean I think my favorite kind of ending is like the ending to ACDC’s song, Big Balls. Where they just, you know, Bon Scott just goes WHAAAAAAH!
Charlie Jane: [00:34:45] I think that's a great way to end any, a novel, a movie, anything is just with like a big WHAAAAAAH! So, you know, that's how we're going to end this segment. One, two, three.
Both together: [00:34:56] WHAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!
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Charlie Jane: [00:35:14] So now for a segment we're calling What I’m Obsessed With Right Now, and Annalee, what are you obsessed with right now?
Annalee: [00:35:20] So I want to bring back a classic obsession of mine, which is I've really been missing the amazing Canadian show Lost Girl, which was on for like a billion years, I feel like. It wasn't really a billion years, but had many seasons and started out incredibly well. It's the tale of a succubus detective. It's set, allegedly in the United States but is incredibly obviously Canada. And um, there's actually a really funny episode where they're trying to pretend that it's like July 4th. And there's actually like, you can see like a sign in the background that has like, you know, a Toronto paper. It's kind of funny.
[00:36:02] And the main character, as I said, she's a succubus and it's all about how there's two groups of Fae. There's dark Fae and light Fae, and of course there's like a million different kinds of supernatural creatures. At first we kind of think that dark Fae are bad guys in the light Fae are good guys, but it's much more complicated than that.
[00:36:23] And the succubus character a is able to kind of, she doesn't end up declaring an allegiance to light or dark. And so she kind of solves mysteries for both sides. She has an amazing best friend who's not magical, but who is a former street kid. And so there's a lot of like subplots about homelessness and poverty and how, you know, horrific that is and how like they want to try to work with the Fae to kind of deal with poverty issues, which is kind of funny. Like it's this like incredibly fantastical, magical show. But it is, you know, it's urban and, part of dealing with the urban landscape for this show is dealing with issues of class. And that comes up again and again. And issues of race, too.
[00:37:07] And so it's a kind of ahead of its time in a way in that, in that sense. But there is also just like a lot of succubus sex, pretty much every character is bi. Pretty much every character has like a million different sexual partners of various kinds. Um, so it's delightful in that way too. You know, what I really need is a fun fantasy show that has like all the pleasure of, almost like a cheesy semi-comic detective story, but also you want like succubus sex.
[00:37:42] Like, I cannot recommend Lost Girl enough. It’s just delightful. So yeah, that's what I'm obsessed with right now is like getting back into something that's light and fluffy and fun and like, you know, maybe just a little bit of a distraction from real life.
[00:37:58] What are you obsessed with right now?
Charlie Jane: [00:37:59] So I've just started watching a show on Netflix called The Ministry of Time, which is a Spanish show and it's basically about this Spanish government department that's really secret that is in charge of like managing time travel. Or, actually not time travel because they say time travel is impossible. It's just that there's a bunch of doorways underneath this building that they're in that lead to different times in the past and maybe in the future. I'm not sure yet. And so they just basically like travel to different points—always in Spanish history—it’s like everything is about Spanish history, which is part of what's so great about it. I think somebody recommended it in our Patreon chat, actually.
[00:38:38] And they just travel around Spanish history, like, stopping people from changing the past or fixing stuff and the characters include like a cavalier from the 16th century and a woman from the 19th century who was the first woman to go to university and she’s a badass kind of Victorian lady. And then a dude from the present day. And there's a lot of queerness so far in the show. There’s also just a lot of like, it's really fun. It's a lot of just like traipsing around time and dealing with Spanish historical stuff, which I didn't know enough about it, so it's really fun. I'm enjoying it tremendously so far.
Annalee: [00:39:17] So, thank you very much for listening, as always. You can find our podcast wherever fine podcasts are pervade. You can leave us a review on Apple Podcasts because that helps people find us. You can follow us on Twitter @OOACpod. You can support us on Patreon. We have a Patreon and you can, so you can just find us at, Our Opinions Are Correct on Patreon and we record here in San Francisco at Women's Audio Mission with our amazing producer, Veronica Simonetti. Yay. Thank you for Veronica!
Charlie Jane: [00:39:53] Thank you, Veronica!
Annalee: [00:39:54] And we have music provided by Chris Palmer, and thank you for listening and we'll be back here in a couple of weeks.
Charlie Jane: [00:40:01] Bye!
Annalee: [00:40:01] Bye!
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