Plot & Structure Exercise 19: It’s Fine, just Spoil it for Me

What sort of ending to you have for your novel? Try writing the climactic scene.


Wow, Mr Bell, seriously? This reminds me of how, allegedly, Nabokov wrote the ending of Lolita way early in his drafting process, because he wanted it clear in his mind as he approached it.


I can see how this would be helpful. Even if we don’t stick to it, because we discover there is a better option, at least it gets our writer’s mind working . . . understanding our characters more deeply.


If I learned anything from my last exercise, it’s that I like endings that feature life and death, but in that sense of inevitable end meets hopeful renewal. Also, I learned I like it when characters talk, especially when they repeat one another’s words, as if chanting, or like how a guitarist ends a rock show with the same wam-wam-wam-wam! And, last (but not last, really) I appreciate having descriptions that add emotion, slows the world down, and delivers a life lesson, a choice, or a beautiful reality.


Essentially, I want an ending that makes me shiver, tingles my skins, and teaches me something important.


Let’s try.


. . .


With a young stupid stud. How could she. How could she not. These were not the questions on Juan’s mind, as he turned around from his own bedroom door. Rather, Juan wondered why had he ever cheated himself all those years, why had he pretended all along? For once, in bed, she was calling out his name, while he patted each stair with the fat of his front foot, walking away.


“Juan!” she cried out. “Juan!” But he could hardly stand hearing his name anymore, especially emanating from a mouth that had beheld another man’s not a minute ago. How he was able to keep moving astounded even the philosopher, holding his breath the way that he did, ignoring the voice he had loved, crying, calling. He felt in his chest and knew in his bones that if he let go of his clenched throat, though, he might just vomit the two cases of beers he had downed with his buddy all night. Where is he now, wondered Juan, holding his neck up with both hands, wondering, where is that man, his friend, Sam Tory. Probably a mile, maybe two away. An easy enough head start to catch up to. He would say I’m sorry at the airport, come what may.


By the time Juan stepped out the front door with keys in hand, an autumn breeze brushed him. It was the first cool wind of the season, and it brought tears to his eyes. His closed those wells on his face, then opened them as he took a deep breath and let the tail of the wind around him bathe him in pollen and dust. After a moment, and it become obvious no wife would hold him back, Juan left his house, popped into the driver’s seat of his Mustang, and told the engine to giddy-up.


Most accidents occur within a few blocks from one’s home, Juan remembered, backing out of his driveway, completely on automatic, no brakes, no acceleration, just ghosting backwards, attention on the rear-view, and then on the road which would become a street, and then a highway, and then a departure gate.


The last thing Juan saw of his home, dropping the top down and putting on his sunglasses, was the baby blue light of a new day washing in from the white light of dawn, part of the vast Texan sky which had held him prisoner most of his life. Juan also saw Pilar, his Pilar, not the one to whom he was married, but the one he had wanted to marry in his youth, a model of who she used to be, the Venus of many old cheesy poems to her — now she was standing at the bedroom window, a ceiling light fixed behind her head like a cheap halo, and her enormous breasts slung in front of her, maybe a frown of pity or one of guilt, an open palm to the cold, cold glass, no one so much as mouthing the words Goodbye, goodbye. Lucky for Juan, his eyesight was bad enough as to not really see her up there, not really tell what she was saying or not, but then again when had he, never, right, so soon pressing down on the accelerator with a few of his toes, and turning away, out, and ahead.


Until he reached the international airport departures gate.


“Sam!” Now Juan was the one yelling. “Sam!” Throngs of red-cheeked boys and pale blue girls turned up from their phones to gawk at the untucked, unhinged professor jogging by. An officer in uniform tried to order Juan to, “Sir, please, sir,” lower his voice or something, but Juan was shouting even louder: “Sam! Sam!”


His friend, scruffy, tired, eyes blazing to turn from the check-in counter, and look over his shoulder, just dropped his jaw to find his friend with him again, before him, panting, out of breath, and nervous, saying something which wouldn’t register at first, until it did.


“You were right, man,” said Juan, hands to his knees, out of shape. “You were right, you were right about everything.”


“Sir,” it was the officer, one hand on his cuffs, the other on his baton. “You . . .”


But when Sam put his hand on his friend’s shoulder and gave him a hug, the officer and the children and everyone being held up at the check-in line sort of stood back–Juan could feel that, at least, and could feel how great it was to feel his friend embrace him–was the two sniffled in each other’s shoulder, as they hugged, as they said I’m sorry to one another.


Sam was the first to break away, after. “I’ve got to go,” he said. “My gig–”


“In New York, yeah, yeah,” interrupted Juan, rubbing his face with his greasy hands. “Listen, buddy, I was thinking.”




“I . . . ” Juan slapped his buddy’s chest, then shook his head, No. “I was thinking, I love you, too. Just not like that.”


The events of the night flashed before Sam. Suddenly he felt their last eight hours together collapse in on him, his knees go weak, and the spirit of his happily ever after slip away from him, for good. Sam sagged, was sagging, while his suitcase held him down next to him, like a cut anchor, as he turned to face the floor where his things had thudded, and a tear reached the floor before he saw two pairs of feet coming together in this incredible world full of possibility.


“What if we took a trip?”


Sam stepped aside to let a family cut in front of him in line, “Really?” to notice some daughter of theirs, who looked a lot like Anais, look at him expecting something, as if he were the one reminding her of someone special, not the other way around.


“To Bangkok, to anywhere,” said Juan. “What if we took a trip?”


“Just like that?” Sam hadn’t packed enough, but then again . . . “What about your classes tomorrow?”


“You mean today?” Juan burst out laughing, as if he hadn’t considered that on the drive to the airport, as if Mondays didn’t apply to him anymore, as if he cared. “I don’t want to teach,” he said, “not as a career anyway.” He clicked his cheek. “There’re more important things in life.”


“Sir!” It was the check-in attendant now, standing up painfully straight, tippy-toeing almost, with a swollen belly and a big fake smile, not really referring to either Juan or Sam, but both of them. “Sir, we don’t go to Bangkok!”


Sam shook off the collapse of their recent night together, overcoming the weakness in his knees and body, tasting all those beers and all those memories still on his tongue.


Meanwhile Juan turned to the check-in lady, who was blushing. She said, “But we do have a flight to Singapore that leaves in twenty minutes.”


“You hear that, Sam?” said Juan. “You hear that!? We’re going to Singapore!”


“The same adventure . . .” said Sam, his face hot all of a sudden.


“No,” replied Juan, pulling out the only thing left on him, his wallet. “Not the same one. Another one!” Then, turning to the lady in uniform, who really was swollen, really was smiling now, Juan said, proudly, “Say, you have a glow about you. You wouldn’t happen to be pregnant, would you?”


And then, with magenta and indigo hues above their heads, the two men flew west, following the Sun, their dreams, a future.

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