As I was putting up Halloween decorations, twinges of excitement accompanying each little success, I started to think about that age-old question of whether it’s the journey and the destination. I realized that Halloween night, as fun as it is, hardly compares to the fun of putting it all up and enjoying those peculiar adornments in the days leading up to it. Christmas day does a little more for me, but all the same, it’s the build-up, as decorations go up all around the city over the weeks leading in.
Clearly, it must be about the journey.
Then I started thinking about the stories I’ve seen, read, and experienced with lackluster, or sometimes even awful, endings. They managed to really put a damper on the entire experience. And I thought about vacations: the journey can be fun, sure, but the real memories come from the destination. The trip can be a struggle–all the packing, jamming it into a tiny car, sitting squished against the steering wheel for hours–but that’s not as big of a deal when the destination is glorious and fulfilling.
My real-world metaphors contradicted each other and gave me pause. Perhaps it’s different for each genre, and maybe even each story. I began to think about my own preferred realm, that of fantasy: dwarves, elves, magic, whole new worlds.
What made The Lord of the Rings great? The journey was amazing, full of tense moments, incredible locales, terrifying monsters, and feats of magic and heroism. All the same, if the quest failed, I would have walked away wholly unsatisfied, probably even disgruntled. The book would have quickly made its own journey from my shelf to a bin at the locale Saint Vincent de Paul society.
And so, when it comes to fantasy, they’re both important: a fantastic journey capped by a powerful ending. Other genres might vary a little: a generic kung-fu movie can become a classic via an incredible final set piece, while a documentary about Jack the Ripper can end with a whimper as the mystery dies unsolved but still have been a worthwhile, gripping ride.
In the end, look at your work, at your intent, and decide what’s more important to your story, the journey or the destination: and then be careful not to discount the importance of the other!
Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!