I have some thoughts to share about the writing of Brains Bennette: The Case of the Missing Mother, and they involve discussing how the story ends. So if you haven’t read it yet, you might want to do so before continuing. Take your time. There’s no hurry. This post isn’t going anywhere.
SECOND SPOILER ALERT!
Okay, you’ve been warned. On with the show.
One comment I received about this story suggested an ending different than the one I wrote: to wit, that Brains could have ended up as his old self while Jenna became a blonde bombshell, thus nicely contrasting Brains (who sought womanhood) with Jimmy (who didn’t, but has it thrust upon him).
That’s a perfectly good ending. The person who suggested it is intelligent and well-read, certainly in the world of TG fiction. Indeed, there are many ways a story like this could end and this alternate is one of the better ones, precisely because of the irony involved. But it would be the wrong ending for this particular story, because of the way I structured it. Here’s why.
Brains Bennette was written with separate protagonist and viewpoint characters. The protagonist is the character that drives the plot forward, while the viewpoint character observes and reports on the action. Here, Brains is the protagonist and Jimmy is the viewpoint. This is a familiar technique, often used in the kind of juvenile fiction I was emulating, and also in popular fiction like the Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s an obvious comparison: Holmes is the protagonist, around whom the plot turns, and Watson is the reporter.
Stories like this have a “tight” viewpoint, meaning that the reader experiences the story through the eyes of Watson or Jimmy, seeing only what they see and knowing only what they know. In a story written this way, it’s not permissible to tell the reader what’s going on in anyone else’s head (anyone other than the viewpoint character); instead, you have to let the reader infer it by what they’re saying and doing. Go through Brains Bennette and you’ll find many examples where Jimmy’s feelings are presented directly, while Brains and the others are described indirectly by the way they speak and act.
So far so good. What’s this got to do with how it ends?
Glad you asked. For any story, it’s critical to properly match the ending to the beginning. There are many ways to do this, but in general the end of the story should in some way echo its start. At the beginning of Brains Bennette, Jimmy comes to see Brains and finds him disguised as a woman, which shocks him. At the end, Jimmy himself dresses as a woman and likes it, just as Brains did at the outset. The story has come full circle.
So here’s my point: even though Brains is driving the plot, ultimately this is Jimmy’s story. So the ending has to be about how Jimmy has changed, not Brains. That’s why the alternate ending I mentioned earlier wouldn’t work; it’s about Brains, not Jimmy. To make that ending work, the story would have to be rewritten to make Brains the viewpoint character. Nothing wrong with that, of course; it could be a perfectly viable story with a solid ending. But it would have to be written from scratch with that ending in mind.
What does this have to do with TG fiction in general? Just this: most of the TG stories I’ve read (admittedly a small subset of the whole) don’t adhere to a strict viewpoint; in effect, they utilize an omniscient narrator even when the story doesn’t need it—and would probably be stronger with a tighter viewpoint. Also, many TG stories have rather weak conclusions; i.e., an ending that doesn’t echo the beginning, and doesn’t close the character arc of the person the story is really about.
There you go, my two cents worth of writing advice.