I’m late to the party on some things. Take Avatar: The Last Airbender, the award-winning animated series created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko for Nickelodeon. The last episode aired in 2008. I watched that episode just last week, thanks to a little invention we call the DVD.
I have a confession to make. I also watched the first episode a little over a month ago. Yep. Watched all three seasons in a short amount of time. That’s how gripped I was.
For those of you who don’t know anything about this series, it follows the adventures of Aang, a twelve-year-old kid who can harness the power of the elements (air, water, earth, and fire). In this series, the ability to use the elements is called bending. Aang is the only one who can restore balance to a world where war has raged for 100 years. His task is to fight the main villain of the piece—Fire Lord Ozai. There’s much more to the series than that pithy explanation. I wasn’t sure I would like it, which was why I came late to the party, as I mentioned earlier.
The ending of the series is what inspired me to write this post. I won’t spoil it for anyone who has yet to view it. But I must say it was truly epic and profoundly satisfying. I couldn’t help giving a fist pump as the words The End flashed on my computer monitor. I’ve watched that ending an embarrassing amount of times already. (I will never admit how many times.)
After watching it, I read Avatar—The Last Airbender™: The Art of the Animated Series—a guide about the production of the series (published in 2010 by Dark Horse Books). I was impressed by the fact that the series creators knew the ending of the series before the show was approved for production. They had the arc of the three seasons mapped out. Maybe they didn’t know all of the ends and outs, as they explain in The Art of the Animated Series, but their vision of the series finale is pretty much how the finale turned out in reality.
I’m writing a fantasy duology. I’ve written the first book, but don’t yet have a clear sense of how the second book—the ultimate ending of the story—will conclude. I wish I could be like DiMartino and Konietzko or J. K. Rowling, who also knew early on what would happen at the end of her seventh Harry Potter book. But endings are the bane of my existence. I struggle with them. How do I tie up all of the loose ends and leave the reader satisfied, rather than cursing my name?
In the production guide DiMartino and Konietzko don’t provide step-by-step tips for writing an epic ending. But they talk about the hard work involved in creating a quality series. Their hard work, and that of the other artists involved in the series, is evident in the quality of each episode and the profound sense of closure viewers experience at the end of the series.
Hard work. I quickly learned the necessity of hard work in my grad program (Writing for Children and Young Adults). Whenever I tried to slack off (every month, it seems), my four advisors constantly pushed me to dig deep and stay focused. So I have to do the hard work of ending my duology and not accept the easy or the convenient, but to make it memorable. To make it count.