Sunday, June 22, 2014

Let's Get Something Straight: My Views on the Bow-Tie Ending

There was a certain controversial article circling the Internet Machine lately about why Adults Should be Ashamed to Read YA. I think you know which one I'm speaking of. Instead of repeating all the wonderful things people have been saying in rebuttal to this petty, ignorantly incriminating piece of writing (oh yes, I said it), I want to address one specific point of Graham's argument: the (oh so typical of YA, NOT!) bow-tie ending. 

I first want to mention my love of a good non-bow-tie ending. In fact, I'm not going to lie, I do tend to prefer those endings. *Look below for a list of my favorite books without bow-tie endings.

But I wanted to do a quick talk on the nature of these particular types of endings.

I couldn't find any official definition of a bow-tie ending in literature on the Googles, so I shall provide one of my own.

A bow-tie ending is simply one where all threads pertaining to various significant aspects of the story have been brought together in a pleasing way so that none are left unattended by the end of the story, special emphasis on the "none."

There. It's as simple as that.
Well, maybe not quite.
For instance, I think it should also be defined for whom the strings should be tied.
In a book, and I'm taking this example from a book that actually exists only I'm not saying which one to keep from being spoilery, a side character who was being cheated on by her boyfriend, despite the fact that the reader most likely wanted that character's boyfriend to break up with her and get with the main character anyway, does not end up with a happy ending when her boyfriend does eventually break up with her, and has consequentially been cheated on prior to this unfortunate occasion. Poor character. We don't necessarily get to see her inner-hurt because she's no longer relevant to the story, but it is a little thorn in the story's shoe, we can at least agree on that. We might not have been much of a fan of her, but did she really do anything wrong? Anything to deserve what happened to her? No, not usually.

So then why is this story considered to have a bow-tie ending by most readers in the end?
It's because we don't give a rat's ass what that unfortunate character thinks or feels. We care about what we feel. Are we happy at the end? Are we satisfied? Are all our character and plot cards sorted and snug in their happy place?
Well then, pass the tape, we've got ourselves a bow-tie.

Which are commonly well accessorized with nerdy glasses, sexy hair, and a sophisticated hardback.

So now that we've got that straight...
I want to enumerate on my particular feelings on this subject.
When I took a fiction writing class in college we, of course, discussed endings. Our teacher strongly cautioned us against the types of endings that are tied up nicely with a pretty bow. I can remember my professor taking on a slick, cheesy, eye-squinty smile and curling in on himself as he fondled his imaginary bow-wrapped package and tried to remonstrate this distastefulness choice.
And for the most part I agreed with him.
But at the same time I was kinda like...what about Kurt Vonnegut's short stories?
I read Look at the Birdie by him, a collection of some of his most popular and lighter short stories, and loved them! And trust me people, I don't really read short stories much. The thing is, some of these had some pretty classic bow-tie endings. They're quite light and airy and feel-good to begin with. Nice stories. Their endings are just as nice, too, if not, nicer. And I shouldn't have to mention that at this point, but Vonnegut is considered an American literary classic. So it got me to thinking, why do writers and readers act like it's best to avoid these bow-tie endings like they avoid using the word "their" in relation to a verb?
Vonnegut does it, and he does it with total Awesome Sauce!
I thought about it...
And thought about it some more...
Then it hit me!
I came to the conclusion that Vonnegut is using his literary license to practice an exercise in the use of what I'm at this very point in time deeming the everyday victory. Not an average everyday victory, especially in his case, because his stories are mostly quite strange and anything-but-ordinary. But still, to put it plainly, understanding this concept sort of took a weight off my shoulders. Because I do like happy endings, and being told I wasn't supposed to have them made me, unsurprisingly, quite depressed.
But I think what needs to be remembered is that there's a good difference between a sparkly, smiley ending with all the trappings of romance, fanfare, and confetti and an everyday victory.
We have those. They're quite real.
Like the day I was told by a particular dance teacher that I was a hopeless case and wasn't likely going to achieve my dreams (in front of the entire class, no less) and the subsequent day was called into the principle's office at school to receive a medal of honor for academic success. One day singled out for failure, the next for victory.
I don't think I need to enumerate too much how this everyday victory made me feel (some amount of tears were involved, both heart-broken and triumphant). But at end-scene, right there, me walking through the school halls with a shiny new medal in my hand, I was filled with nothing but satisfaction and blissful content. In that instance, I'd come out the victor. At the final sentence of my short story, my medal was literally my bow-tie.
So yes, what I'm saying here is that I think there is an occasion for bow-tie endings.
What I'm calling the everyday victory.
They happen, guys.
And thank God, too. Cause what would we do without them?

But the last opinion of mine I want to share is that there are still times in an ending where the "all strings have been nicely tied" alternative should be feared.
Series. Trilogies. Duologies. Sagas.
Anything more than one book, people.
The reason I think this is because at that point we've pretty deeply invested into some sort of world, and when there's a greater world to address (as in more than anything of the "everyday" sort) there's going to be a greater chance for loss.
There has to be some loss along the way, and that has to be connected to the ending. The reason for this is because, relating to the first point, have you ever had a week where every living second was just pickles and peaches? And relating to the second, don't you think it's likely there's a common thread/threads connecting the issues of your life that are eventually and inevitably going to culminate at some point? Perhaps even affecting one another?
So yes, there are times where I think bow-tie endings should be avoided like the plague, just like a writer should avoid writing cliches...

But there are also times when we need to remember those everyday victories.

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