The other day I was talking with my aunt, who's avidly reading P+FD (and who came up with that shorthand). She made a few observations that I think are worth sharing. She's much better with words than I am. I was talking about the publication and posting of P+FD, and she asked me what sort of ending the story has.
I paused for a long time. Then I re-assured her by telling her that there was a sequel.
If you've had the opportunity to lurk around this blog a little, you have a feel for how my writing process works. I come up with scenes that I'm determined to write, usually at the middle and end, and I work my way towards my benchmarks. Sometimes writers talk about unconscious writing. These scenes are the closest I come to that. They are mountains, planets... For some reason, my emotions and beliefs attach to them, and I believe that they will be amazing and worth writing, but only with context. Which I will have to create. They're my lampposts.
The end of the book is set in stone. My aunt was asking about the ending of P+FD, and when I paused to consider my answer, she made a very unhappy noise. Despite being assured that there's a sequel, which means that characters worth caring about make it to the next novel, she ignored my assurances and went on to consider the story generally.
She remarked that given the story up to now, how could there be a happy ending?
(Which reminded me of one of my favorite moments in the Lord of the Rings films.)
By the end of Chapter 77 (mid. 25), Asuka's father is revealed to be Mogasa, her family is struggling in the capital in exile, Gekkōguni is falling into ruin, Kouji is dead and partially responsible for Asuka's father's death... There's tragedy around every corner, and there's no way to change the awful things that people have done.
Which brings us back to my aunt's rhetorical question: how could there be a happy ending?
Personally, I dislike it when authors fight at the end of books to redeem the damned and damn the neutral. I don't mind characters being redeemed, but I hate it when I see an author fighting to make it happen. When the characters surrounding the guy who did something really bad earlier in the book readily forgive him after one act of goodness. I'm not hating on the "redeem" trope, but the glimpse behind the author's curtain that happens when it fails to work.
Instead of noisy forgiveness at the end of a novel, I love quiet guilt. Quiet guilt crawls into my mind and lays eggs, hatching into little animals that live in my thoughts for months.
|Is he talking about his wife? Chirikai? He's feeling SOMETHING deep and there's some hurt, right?|
I'm a mediocre writer, but I figure I might as well shoot for what I like to read. I like to think. I like conclusions, but I dislike having everything spelled out. There's something about noisy forgiveness that grates on contemplation.
As a person, I am slow to forgive. This is a trait that has bled into all my novels to date in one way or another, and P+FD is no exception. I have trouble writing unconditional forgiveness, which would probably make for an interesting session with the therapist because I love writing love.
Anyway, a true happy ending involves the redemption and forgiveness of a cast of characters:
1. Chirikai's father. Something would have to happen to allow Chirikai to forgive him, allowing a more positive relationship. But really, this would require me demonizing Chirikai's mother—pun not intended—in order to save Chirikai's father.
But the most realistic answer to this mysterious relationship places blame on both parents. Obviously Chirikai's father left to pursue an affair with the Sun Goddess, and then, Chirikai's mother left him to pursue a relationship with a mortal, leaving him alone. There is no happy ending, but perhaps Chirikai's father can rise in our esteem.
2. Mogasa. At the end of #77, Asuka meets Mogasa and recognizes as her father. Lord Shinrusu died in the battle against the volcano goddess, then came back as a god of plague. His mind and memories have been scrambled by the process, but the thing that has held him together has been his sense of fatherhood. Which bizarrely, he has projected onto his virus.
Since Mogasa entered the book, readers have pinned him as the villain. In all honesty, he's the most villainous character in the book. He has killed hundreds, possibly thousands in his quest. But there's something tragic about his journey, which has required him to give up and destroy pieces of himself. Anyway, how does one redeem Mogasa?
And, if he's not redeemable, it seems that the climatic battle will be between Mogasa and Asuka. Which begs the question, how can there be a happy ending after that battle, where a daughter fights against her own father?
Man, let's continue this systematic list. I've never done one of these!
3. Kouji. By the end of the second saga, we learned that Kouji had conspired to destroy the hiwau and the capital. It didn't come out of nowhere—Chirikai suggested as much at the beginning of the saga—but the truth was a whammy all the same. The man that Asuka loved, participated in a plot that killed her father.
Short of Kouji popping back and saying, "Syke! I was framed," which would cheapen all the drama of the second saga, he's... not all bad, but he's tragic. I wince when I think of Kouji, but that's because I personally lay most of the blame at the feet of his mother and father for putting him in the position and making the plot to destroy the hiwau's country—and we'll leave the hiwau business off the table. We've met Empress Yumewara, and she is not a lovable character; some of Kouji's blame will shift to her, but not all because Kouji ultimately made the choice to obey his family.
Even Asuka's love for Kouji is neutralized in the face of his confession. He predicts that Asuka will hate him one day, but Asuka is too swept up in her newfound powers to focus on hating him.
In short, Kouji's status will not transform at the end of the novel. It's not possible. He's gone from being ghost-dead to dead-dead. Or Dead. With a side of oh-man-I-wish-you-hadn't-done-that.
So, these are the three most toxic relationships in P+FD, and they're not readily resolved. They are not readily resolved because we know that these characters have done these terrible things. Kouji's betrayal. Mogasa's epidemic. Retan Shitunpe's marriage. With the exception of Mogasa, even the characters do not deny that they've done something bad. There's no magic spell, no evidence under the rug that will make them seem better.
Well, this leads to the natural question: what does a happy ending for P+FD look like?
I'm not answering that question here. That's a question for you.
Moving away from endings, my aunt made a remark on Heimatsu. I laughed about how liked Heimatsu was, which surprised me because I liked him but he was so ordinary compared to everyone else, and frankly, I'm used to readers ignoring my normal characters.
There's a bit of cold calculation that goes into character-building. I expect the majority of readers to like Chirikai—they do—and I expect people to like Asuka—they do. I expected a small, weird contingency to take to Chirikai's dad.
(For all the energetic feminism of the Internet, I've discovered that female readers readily take to male characters. Love for female characters, in general, comes more slowly. It's harder won. Not offering any explanations. Just an observation. Maybe it just means I write better men? No idea.)
But honestly, I expected no one to really like Heimatsu. He was originally written as a sounding board for Chirikai at the opening of the novel, and I enjoyed writing his perspective. I liked what his voice said about Chirikai. But he was, despite being a catfish, very ordinary.
I like everyone I write. Heimatsu was no exception. But I was so surprised when readers liked him.
My aunt offered that Heimatsu was like the reader. The reader, she said, really wants Chirikai to be happy. Even though he rarely knows what he wants, even when he's stupid or a jerk, we just want him to be happy. Heimatsu is just like the reader. He wants Chirikai to be happy and he's trying to be there for him, even when things seem impossible.
Readers, and me, I think disagree with every character at some point in the point. But I can't think of a single time when I have disagreed with Heimatsu. Unlike Chirikai, I've never wanted to throw something at my computer when I read or write his train of thought.
Catfish food for thought.