On Endings

As many of you know, I’m wending slowly but surely towards the ending of West of Bathurst.  It’s a strange and sometimes fascinating process that isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever done before.  I’ve written plenty of endings, but none for a work I’ve written serially over the course of seven years.  There’s something about creating a serial that sets it apart from other kinds of creation.

For instance, serials are published bit by bit, with no option for going back to change things around if you have a brilliant idea about something later on.  This is not a new observation, of course.  Serial novels, comic books, comic strips, and TV shows have been around for a while.  I’m sure Dickens looked back on early portions of his novels and muttered to himself about how he wished he’d left a particular character out of the story altogether.  I’m pretty nearly certain that the writers of Lost held at least one meeting per year in which someone went, “So when are we going to deal with those damn polar bears?”  Stories change and evolve as they’re written.  Authors shopping out manuscripts are often advised to rewrite so many times that the final (for now) version bears little resemblance to the first draft.  Serials, on the other hand, force writers to accommodate their own errors and false starts.

I’ve included plenty of elements in West of Bathurst that haven’t gone anywhere.  Morgan, Barbara’s stroppy former friend, was originally meant to be a major character, as was Fred, an early character who only ever got about six lines.  Other elements have come out of nowhere and taken centre stage.  Rahim was supposed to be a background character.  Jackie didn’t even have a name until a friend of mine observed how much the character resembled her.  Barbara’s Sherlock Holmes outfit originally appeared when I was on a bit of a Holmes kick, but it kept coming back and has recently become a pretty important part of the plot.  Marie’s tendency to lose her mind when she stays up all night just sort of happened, but it’s currently figuring into her Ph.D. defence.

Then there are the bits and pieces that appeared briefly early on but later became major plot elements, some on purpose and some by accident.  Nico was first mentioned a few months into the comic’s run.  I always knew what his deal was, but I didn’t bring him properly into the comic until Christmas of 2010, almost exactly four years after his name first came up.  I don’t know now whether or not I was ever planning to introduce him as a proper character.  After a while, everything sort of blurs together.  It’s possible to convince yourself that you know precisely what you’re doing, even if that isn’t true.

The hardest bit is the ending.  I’ll freely admit that when I started the comic, I didn’t know where it was heading, let alone how it would end.  Every once in a while, I would think, “So how am I going to resolve this?  Eh…I have plenty of time.”  Eventually, you wake up to the realisation that most of the time is gone now.  That’s when you discover whether you really have been setting things up for an ending all along…or whether what you have is a snarl of disconnected elements and a bunch of extraneous polar bears.  Sometimes, not even time travel can save you.

It remains to be seen whether I can pull this off.  West of Bathurst has been accused of being rather Lost-like in its tendency never to answer any of the questions it proposes.  I do know how it’s going to end, and I guess all I can hope for is that it’s not completely terrible.  If it is, then it will, I suppose, simply be echoing many other serials.

Endings are also rather sad.  I wish they didn’t have to happen.  But old stories do end, polar bears and all, probably so that the new stories won’t feel so very crowded.

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