I finished reading Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe and there are — as El Guapo would say — a “plethora” of topics worth talking about concerning writing and that novel. In this post, I’ll keep focused on “The Big Finish,” the lavish, action-packed ending to a story.
I’ve always looked at The Big Finish as a Hollywood invention. A story can move along at its own pace, but ultimately it must have a confrontation. It must have a guns-blazing, hero-in-peril climax. That’s one of the reasons I’ve stopped caring about action and superhero movies. There’s only one possible ending.
I owe an apology to Hollywood. They didn’t invent The Big Finish, they just furnished it with the best special effects and blood splatter money can buy. DeFoe already used it 270 years before Luke and Han blew up the Death Star.
The Big Finish fits many stories. It’s the logical ending — the inevitable conclusion the plot and tone have been working toward. But Robinson Crusoe didn’t need it. It didn’t need a furious battle between Robinson, his surprisingly plentiful band of men, and mutinous sailors. It definitely didn’t need the tale of fighting wolves on the land voyage to France. The story, until those scenes, had concentrated on fear, doubt, contemplation, self-discovery. In a word, Robinson Crusoe is about psychology. However, the novel’s conclusion wasn’t a battle of man-vs-nature or man-vs-his mind, a resolution of the fight between Robinson and himself. It was The Big Finish, complete with guns, swords, and tactical plans.
DeFoe writes action well, and so the ending wasn’t sheer disappointment, but it seemed in violation of the story’s character. I understand the battle scenes. They give energy to the story that isn’t possible had Robinson just grown insane or been rescued in a less masculine manner. But it made me wonder about my own writing and how I would write a climax for a psychological story. Must I have a villain and a final violent confrontation? Must I have a high-speed escape from some danger? How does a story end without The Big Finish and still feel like an ending? The Big Ending is every writer’s temptation: to build into a great crescendo of action and resolution. To come at the reader or audience with a feast of fireworks, frenzy, and physical struggle, but [insert post ending here.]