Hayley Jackson Will Not Be Drinking This Evening came about because I was experimenting with using future tense to tell a story. It’s not something I’ve seen done before (although I’m sure there are plenty of examples out there somewhere), and I kept it quite short in an attempt to avoid letting it get too gimmicky. I’m pleased with how it turned out, and very happy it’s found a home at such a lovingly curated site. Please do check them out.
The fiction editor, Claire King (who has an impressive writing CV herself), asked whether I would consider removing a couple of lines from the end of the story, leaving the outcome more ambiguous. This is the second time an editor has wanted to remove some of the certainty from one of my stories (the previous occasion was Counterfeit Confetti at Fiction At Work - a site which sadly no longer seems to exist). I recognise that I do have a tendency to attempt to wrap up each and every loose end, and I try not to be precious about my work, so I was happy to make the cut.
It’s made me curious, though, about how people perceive the story now. In the original, I left no doubt as to what would happen to Hayley, my protagonist. Without the “definitive” ending, there’s room for speculation. Are the sections in future tense true? Does Hayley manage to break the cycle? Or, are they just her good intentions, which will ultimately pave the way to another night of disappointment and regret? I’m interested to know what people think, and whether ambiguity is something you appreciate in a story, or whether you get annoyed at the thought the writer couldn’t make up his or her mind about what actually happened.
I suppose when I read a story I’m looking for something in between. The ending where they all lived happily ever after (or not) is too childish, too convenient, but if everything just stops without any resolution I’m left with the impression that the writer got bored or chickened out of finishing the story properly. The best endings are those where I feel that, although how things turn out isn’t explicitly stated, the author – through the twinkle of a metaphorical eye – has let me in on the secret of what really happens. I like to feel I’ve worked out the hidden puzzle, that I’ve picked up the clues the writer has carefully sprinkled between the lines.
In the published version of the story, both options for what happens to Hayley are equally plausible. But only one of them is the truth. Which do you think it is?
I don't think you did leave the outcome equally weighted. Her reluctance, based on past events, points to it being more likely she will have an unsuccessful conclusion to the evening. However, it's not certain. This time she might retain her dignity and exercise self-control.
Also, the reader brings their own experience to the story, which could favour one or other outcome.
When I read this a couple of days ago, I thought the abrupt ending was a master stroke! It's not just happy endings that can be too neat - any ending can come across as glib, because if the characters are believable, you have to believe their life goes on past the end of the story.
I assumed from the way it was written that Hayley would be going out and that the "future" sections were semi-prophetic. But I hope she stays strong! I'm glad I didn't know.
The current novel I'm writing does not wrap up nicely. One very important question about the main character is never answered. The first thing I've been asking all my draft readers is, "Is the ending unsatisfactory?", and they've ALL said that they love the fact you can decide for yourself what happens to the MC after the end of the book. I was a bit paranoid, but now it's given me more confidence.
Nice story, Dan.
Thanks, Perry. Yes, the reader's take on any story is definitely coloured by their own experience and attitude. It's one of the things that makes re-reading stuff such a pleasure - you spot things that you'll swear can't possibly have been in there the first time around.
Thanks, Chloe. A masterstroke, eh? Hee hee. I guess that's one of the benefits of working with an editor - it helps you step back from the story and re-evaluate some of the choices you've made. In fairness, thinking about it, my original ending finished with Hayley saying, "But just the one drink, okay?" - which doesn't necessarily mean she's definitely going to do all the "she will nots" - but it does set her off along that path.
It's good to know readers are rooting for Hayley, though. I think she deserves a break.
I think it works well as it is. I don’t know if much would be added by actually showing us it going one way or another, so unless you had a third (surprise) ending in store for us, I think this was a good edit. For what it’s worth, at the beginning I had the impression she was going to be peer-pressured into going out anyway but towards the end I felt like she might stick to her guns. But then, I also felt that it wasn’t the main story there – that was all in the flash forwards, only as I read on did it become clear why saying no would be such a victory.
Obviously you want to avoid to readers finishing the piece and feeling like they have been left in the lurch, but in the same way I find that endings that are too conclusive can be a bit disappointing. I think what I aim for in an ending (and this is just me, and I don’t know if I achieve this in any way) is a temporary stopping point, with a suggestion of what might happen next.
As a writer, I love ambiguity - too much - and often I'm guilty of not giving readers enough hand holds!
As a reader, I like to see the writer has left me space to imagine inside their work.
I used to be obsessed with symmetry and wrapping the story ends up - over-plotting - but now I like tangental endings, where things are left slightly up in the air...
I just cut the ending off two stories to make them even more ambiguous.
I'm going to go read your story now....
Wow - love the careful turning of the piece; the shift in H's choices. Mmm, I think she thinks she's in control of herself by the end of this story - having done so much thinking - so would choose to go with them because she thinks she can say no to the bar man.
Like Hayley's comet, blazing a trail she can't shift from...very moving story (no pun intended!)
Mark Twain was born when the comet passed, and he died a few days after its next passing....bit of trivia for you there...
Halleys, even, but everybody from Barnsley calls it Hayley's ;)
Congrats Dan.. off to check out that link :-)
Thanks, everybody, for reading the story and commenting here. I really appreciate it.
Ric, that's pretty much my take on endings - I've heard somebody else say they should be a comma rather than a full stop. I personally feel that an ending should be a beginning, of a kind, and that the story should give the reader enough information to decide for themselves what happens beyond the point at which the story finishes. However, this then conflicts with my natural tendency to want to tidy everything up and not leave any loose ends trailing.
Rachel, wow - I don't think I could ever just slice the ends off of anything I've written. But it's been good seeing how other people interpret my work and where they think the natural finishing point lies.
Diane, thank you. I hope you enjoyed it.
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