Our family lives in the toilet.
“That’s not Lightning McQueen. That’s Lightning McPoopie!”
“Can Mater swim in pee-pee water?”
“What happens when someone eats poop?”
“I don’t want toasted cheese, I want toasted poop!”
Ever since Bo and I went on the offense in the Potty Wars, everything’s become poop and pee-pee water. It’s the subject of every car ride: “Do you need to use the potty before we go? Did you make pee-pee water and poop, or just pee-pee water?”
It’s the subject of most text messages between me and Bo: “Did either boy poop yet today?” “How does something this big come out of a butt that small?” (Yes, he includes photos.)
It comes up every breakfast and bedtime routine: “Did you use the big toilet or the little potty?” “DON’T RUN WITH THE POTTY FULL OF PEE-PEE WATER!”
It’s a source of bragging rights for Blondie: “I don’t need the little seat any more, Mom!” “I made two sausage poops after supper!”
It’s a source of pride for Bash: “I used the potty at school today, Mommy!” “I made five big poops! Can I have a new train?” (Trains make for great bribes. Bash has his own steam and diesel fleet…squadron…collective? Murder of trains, I don’t know what their group’s called.)
And then, there’s Biff.
I don’t know whether to admire his will-power or have him checked for an extra colon. He wears underwear without (much) of a fight. Yay! He’ll pee in the potty without a problem. Yay yay! But no poop.
I let him have as many peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches as he wanted. Raisins galore. Pouches of prunes and broccoli and any other fiber-rich produce I can think of (yes, pouches. Eating fresh produce is a whooooooooole ‘nother war I’m not ready to fight yet.) Nothing after two days. Three days. Four days. Five days. And he still goes on stealing food from his brother whenever possible. Where in Hades does he keep it all in that little body?
Patoots aren’t the only places that get backed up. I’ve been feeling it in my head, too. And all the poop talk doesn’t exactly lend itself to inspiring imagination, especially when I’m struggling with one. Bloody. Line.
The ending for Middler’s Pride needs another scene so Mer could stand before her trainer, father, and king’s brother to find out whether or not she passed boot camp. Considering how long Mer had waited to have her father’s undivided attention, I couldn’t just gloss over this moment.
The world lost its clarity in all those campfires. Only the stars above had a sharpness to them. Some of those stars told stories, too, of battles and heroes. Some told the way East, North, West. South.
Mer felt her feet move—they were moving east, to the campfire, rank, and family—and wondered: How many steps east and south would it take to reach the Beaumains and vengeance?
But first stop:
“And this will be Meredydd, daughter of Lord Iwan,” Captain Vala’s voice sounded bile-free for the first time in weeks. Well, bully for her. She still had the look of someone who’d been kicked by a horse, especially when Fychan spoke.
“Would you look, lovey!”
“Don’t. Call me. Lovey.” Terrwyn’s glare almost, almost, brought a laugh out of Meredydd. But this was serious business, despite Fychan.
“Oh pish, look at our girl, she’s lost it at last!”
The king’s brother, Lord Kynan, smoothed away a drawing between he and Terrwyn, something that looked like a large hand. “Meredydd, daughter of Lord Iwan, I’ve been told you of all the recruits followed all orders to the letter.”
“I did my best, Sir.”
“That you bested all with spear, sword, axe, and dagger.”
“That you carried an ox’s burden upon your shoulders.”
“I did? Oh, yeah, I did, Sir.”
“That you discovered a lethal creature of magick in the forest and took measures to destroy it.”
“Not alone, but yes, Sir.”
A pause. Saffir glowed through her own fatigue, hand firmly upon Lord Iwan’s. In that moment, he still looked upon Mer with such…warmth, kindness, but more than that. He was looking at her as one of his own.
“Well, Captain Vala, if you’re in agreement—“
Those rat-heart eyes beat slowly, be it due to drink or recovery. “I am.”
“My lord, can I say something?” Lord Iwan’s brow furrowed. Uh oh. But it wasn’t right, and Mer so badly wanted it to be right. “Perhaps Captain Vala hasn’t said, but I want it known that I was, well…” Is there even a formal way to say it?
Lord Kynan stroked his braids with his three-fingered hand. “Yes?”
Hold your hands tight behind your back. Stand straight. Believe in truth. Your truth. “I was a git when I first came here. I was pompous and nasty and rude to all no matter what their rank.” The chief allowed a laugh to rumble through him, stirring his granddaughter to sleepily ask if a storm was coming. “It took, well, it took giant rats and those girls over there who are far, far better souls than me and divine intervention to make me see that. Gods know what I’d be like without them. Dead by poisonous snake, for a start.” Terrywn set her pipe upon her knee. Her eyes never left Mer’s face. “I won’t have my entry into the Shield Maidens based on pretty tales, Sir.”
Another pause, and it was a big one. Well, mostly big. Fychan’s earrings jingled as he looked at Lord Kynan, Captain Vala (who blushed), Terrwyn, everyone. His eyes sparkled like silver. “See? I told you she lost it!”
“Lost what?” asked Lord Kynan.
Terrwyn tapped her pipe against her iron leg with a thin clang clang. “The chip on her shoulder. Can’t imagine where she got it from.” She slowly looked at Lord Iwan and stuck that pipe firmly between her teeth for a fresh puff.
Lord Iwan looked down. The warmth, it was fading! Wait, no, not fading. Just a bit swamped by something Mer had never seen on him before, but it was something she was starting to know pretty well: shame.
“Ah.” Lord Kynan leaned forward and looked upon Mer with kind eyes. “I do take these things into consideration, recruit. I met you as you were, and I see what you have become. And you, Meredydd, are as true a Shield Maiden as Captain Terrwyn. You do your kith and kin proud.”
Saffir’s grin had a magick all its own—pity it didn’t run in the family. But no matter Ratty and Dud, this was her moment. Meredydd’s moment.
Saffir nudged Lord Iwan, and his gaze lifted up to Mer. Eyes bright, sadness gone, Father said: “Yes. She does.”
In that moment’s passing comes the end of Mer’s story. Anything after is drawing things out. I mean, she does need to get back to her fellow recruits to sit and soak up what she was told. But I can’t afford to let her–well, me–ramble on. So that final scene needs to be lickety-split quick, a sense of completion for Mer, but not the other Shield Maidens.
Hmmm. Well, I’ve always loved the way Diana Wynne Jones gave her stories a sense of character completion but not world-completion, soooooooo:
To the Diana Wynne Jones Shelf!
I find four stories that stand alone just fine, but also have sequels and pseudo-sequels: Cart and Cwidder is the first of the Dalemark Quartet; Charmed Life begins the Chrestomanci series; Howl’s Moving Castle has two other stories set in the same universe; the multiverse magic-enforcing Magids are introduced in Deep Secret and come back in at least one other story.
Charmed Life: Young protagonist Cat Chant has just finished helped Chrestomanci defeat Cat’s wicked elder sister Gwendolen. The boy’s a wreck: he just found out the last blood relative he had had been keen to kill him and steal his magic. He’s left with Chrestomanci, Chrestomanci’s family, and a girl named Janet, stuck in Cat’s world thanks to Gwendolen’s spell.
Janet looked at Cat and laughed. And Cat, though he was still a little lonely and tearful, managed to laugh, too.
Cat’s had it lousy from infancy on. The book begins with him clinging to his sister, whom we later learn not only killed their parents, but has killed Cat himself several times. The reason he’s even called Cat is because Gwendolen said he has nine lives, which, in this magical multiverse, means Cat’s destined to be a sorcerer like Chrestomanci. This little kid’s got to accept that all he knew was not as it was. By his final response, we know he’s having a hard time with that, but we also know he already has a stronger, better “sister” in his life, who is able to act positively with him and bring out the better things in him. Life will be okay.
Howl’s Moving Castle: With the Witch of the Waste and her nasty fire demon defeated, Sophie frees Calcifer and Howl from their curse. Calcifer takes off, and Howl proposes to Sophie. He promises lots of hair-raising adventure–only to be interrupted by Calcifer’s return, back in the fireplace where he always burned, ready to help the magic of the castle.
“You didn’t need to do that,” Howl said.
“I don’t mind, as long as I can come and go,” Calcifer said. “Besides, it’s raining out there in Market Chipping.”
I love the sense of home this instills. All Calcifer has wanted is to be free to leave the castle’s hearth, and with the curse broken, he can finally do so. Readers already know Sophie and Howl are happy and geared for a crazy life together; now we know Calcifer has found where he belongs, too.
Deep Secret: Most of this book works with two points of view: Magid Rupert and potential-Magid Maree. The last chapter, however, is from Maree’s cousin Nick. Why? Well, only Nick could really explain how Maree’s life was recovered from the Deep Secret of Babylon, and the Magid leaders of The Upper Room wanted that information. The book ends with Nick’s determination to cheat The Upper Room and remember all that had happened despite the erasure of his memory.
Blow that about deep secrets! Rupert and Maree say that the basic job of a Magid is to gradually release the special knowledge anyway. And besides, I want to remember. It strikes me as one of the best ways of forcing that Upper Room to make me a Magid too. That was what I’d been going to ask for, until I had to ask for Maree instead. Now I’ll have to get to be one another way round.
This particular last line feels far more open to a sequel than the other books, even though Jones hadn’t been planning a sequel. It took a particular request from a child during signing–“I don’t think Nick’s story is done yet!” that got her started on the pseudo-sequel The Merlin Conspiracy.
Cart and Cwidder: This one’s a bit peculiar. Moril has used the magic cwidder’s song to close a mountain pass. The nasty threat of South Dalemark has been stopped, young Moril’s siblings are safe, and now he’s ready to abandon them and go on more adventures with another singer named Hestafan.
“Please,” Moril said to him, “will you take me with you when you go?”
“Well,” Hestafan said dubiously, “I was thinking of slipping off now, when nobody’s noticing.”
“I know you were,” said Moril. “Take me, too. Please.”
Hestafan looked at him, a vague, dreamy look, which Moril was positive saw twice as much as most people’s. “You’re Clennen’s other son, aren’t you?” he said. “What’s your name?”
“Tanamoril,” said Moril. “I’m called Osfameron, too,” he added, as an inducement.
Hestafan smiled. “Very well then,” he said. “Come along.”
Aaaaand then we hear nothing of these people until the fourth book.
Of the four, this one has the feel of a story that would be picked up immediately in the next volume, but that’s not the case. Jones doesn’t do that anywhere, actually. Oh, she’ll jump back and forth in time–Crown of Dalemark, the fourth book, does exactly that–but there’s never an immediate linear continuance. She merely leaves it open.
Endings are not easy. I find them the hardest part. You don’t know whether to stop with everyone just at the end of the adventure, and not knowing what really happened to Aunt May or Uncle Joe, or to make sure that the right people are going to be happy and the wrong people not, or even whether to go on and tell what happens in the next twenty years….
My feeling is that the best stories leave the reader trying to imagine what happened after the story stopped.
– Diana Wynne Jones, “Some Hints on Writing”
So, what do I do?
Well, I want more than linear continuance. Beauty’s Price works with Wynne’s perspective, which will call for a slight rewind into the last few scenes. Now the danger with that is getting repetitive and boring readers before Wynne’s story has a chance to really start. So, at the end of Middler’s Pride, I have Mer note a few things about Wynne’s strange behavior and leave them unexplained. This will allow me to give the roots of Wynne’s behavior at the start of Beauty’s Price and establish what’s at stake in her life.
First, though, Mer’s got to bow out.
So again, me, what do I do?
- Complete Mer’s transformation. Show Mer’s no longer the pompous know-it-all.
- Act I mirror. I’m a sucker for coming full circle. It probably comes from teaching basic essay structure for over ten years. But what to mirror? Not her pride. The flies are dumb. Not the swimming. Not the suitor. So, what? Well, she does do the “defend our honor!” in both Acts I and II, so that could be useful. But it’s not enough…well, she reminds herself that she is Meredydd , Shield Maiden. In all her daydreaming she was giving herself different names…ooooo….
- End it open. The problem established at the beginning of the four Jones stories are all solved, but Jones doesn’t dictate that the universes are ever closed. I dig this–it gives the readers a chance to imagine what happens next. While I do have plans for Mer after this night, she doesn’t know that.
Now to put this plan to use.
However you choose to end your story, don’t let the story’s end be the end of that world. Let the promise of more wet the air like a coming storm. The rain may fall, it may not. But rest assured, readers will feel that promise on their skin. They will look up to wonder…and hope.