The Power of a Not-So-Happy Ending

My two current writing projects deal in real people and their grief--both, even, in crimes committed and what happens next. And though I allow my characters in both instances to speak for themselves, how and where I put the words makes all the difference.

It's how you tell a story that counts. It's all in how the story is told.

For my book, which you know about because you've donated here, or read this nice write-up, I've settled on a quiet story as an ending, one whose power belies its simple telling. While not the happiest detail of the book nor the highest point of redemption, it shows the transformational possibilities that one man's act of forgiveness can germinate. We're left in the quiet calm after grief's storm, and we see that the soil is drinking in the rain; the afterword is where the reader will learn of new babies born, new joys.

My latest play for the former prisoners has much the same tone. Hopeful, positive, but a lament nonetheless.

While working with the men to gather material for the script, I've increasingly become aware that I can't leave them after the telling of their crimes; for some, just saying the words out loud is clearly troubling, especially as these are men who have worked hard at turning their lives around.

I try to end these times with them speaking something hopeful, whether it be an example of how different they've become, or an affirmation of their gifts.

The play, however, needs to stay a lament. These are men whose past will always follow them, no matter how much they change.

We read through the script for the first time yesterday, and I found I was uncomfortable with such vulnerability. I'm not a big fan of happy endings, but this one--that I wrote--was quite down.

They liked it. It works. I knew that, but my conscience was kicking in as it should, probably as representative of what the audience will feel, which will hopefully move them to act.

Sometimes we need to sit in the sad.


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