Getting to the End Feb 7, 2013

The idea of "another story can be written" is the thread to the exceptional parent movement and for the commitment of this magazine to continue to help readers construct their stories; the beginning, the middle and the end.

By Rick Rader, MD

Storytelling is easy. You need a beginning, middle and an end.

There is no getting around it. It's how our earliest stories, from the oral tradition, till now, have been constructed. It's how our legends, folktales, fables and mythology have been passed, preserved and presented. In terms of this story, we're in the "beginning" of it.

All three components (beginning, middle and end) have their advocates as being the most significant and important piece of the story pie. There are writing courses that focus on how to craft the best possible piece of the trilogy. Editors often reject promising manuscripts that don't seem to "end well."

It's the "ending" that has been the piece that has recently received the most attention from movie critics; it seems as if there has been a rash of movies that don't deliver the prized ending.

Speaking about Steven Spielberg's movie on the life of Abraham Lincoln, actor Samuel L. Jackson remarked, "I don't understand why it didn't just end when Lincoln is walking down the hall and the butler gives him his hat. Why did I need to see him dying on the bed? The movie had a better ending 10 minutes before."

A Los Angeles Times movie reporter writes, "Hollywood films are struggling to find the exit. Stories seem to end, end again, and then end once more. Climactic scenes wind down, then wind up. Movies that appear headed for a satisfying resolution turn away, then try to stumble back."

"Things wind down, then wind up" could be the mantra of the exceptional parent. It defines the graph, trajectory and path of parents of children with special health care needs. The quest for an "end" is jettisoned early in the life among parents who never know what new beginnings await them as they confront the natural history of both their child's disorder and the flawed systems designed to assist them.

It's amazing how the anatomy of writing fiction applies to the lives of these exceptional parents. The parallels are very close to home. Creative writing blogger Dave Hood provides some advice on how to write an ending for a short story. In all too many cases, the stories of exceptional parents are sadly short stories. The comparisons of the lives of exceptional parents to Hood's tutorial can be eerie.

"All stories must end with resolution. There must be some answer to the central conflict. When you write the ending, your story must be complete. All unanswered questions posed in the story must be answered. All loose ends must be tied up."

For most readers of EP, there are always "unanswered questions." Starting with "why" and navigating through "now what," there are more questions that go unanswered than are answered.

Hood introduces the use of "denouncement" as a framework to an ending. "The story can end with a closed ending or open ending. In a closed ending, nothing more can happen. In an open ending the writer leaves questions about what will happen next. The reader is left to imagine what the central character will do next with his life." For the exceptional parent, the "central character" is always their child and they constantly have to balance and prepare for both open and closed endings.

Following the idea of denouncement, Hood offers up "the Realization." Here, "the central character gains some insight or is enlightened, and then makes some change in his/her life." Change is common currency for the exceptional parent as well as the attainment of insights. It is these insights that enable and equip parents to change their approaches and tactics at a moment's notice.

Finally Hood introduces the technique of "epiphany." "It is not simply a realization, but a 'magical moment,' 'felt moment', that results in permanent change by the character." The lives of exceptional parents are full of magical and felt moments.

There are at least four ways to "end" a story and we find the stories of exceptional parents often have multitudes of all of them.

Sometimes the writer concludes the story with a "twist ending." Readers are led to believe that a story will end in a particular way, and then it ends in a different way."

Often we have a "resolving action" in which some final action will bring an end to the conflict, complete finality." Unfortunately, complete finality is always a possible ending despite the Herculean attempts to edit it out of the story.

And there is always the potential to throw an "ambiguous ending" at the reader. "Essentially the writer crafts an ending in which the story ends, but the reader is left wondering what will happen next. So there is no permanent resolution to the ending. Another story can be written, which brings total closure to the story." The idea of "another story can be written" is the thread to the exceptional parent movement, and for the commitment of this magazine to continue to help readers construct their stories; the beginning, the middle and the end.

And, at the risk of harming what was a strong ending with the above paragraph I might misstep with "ending" with the words of Winston Churchill, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

THE END

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