All’s Well That Ends Well
We all like certainty
“All’s well that ends well, still the fine’s the crown;
Whate’er the course, the end is the renown.” — William Shakespeare, 1603 (All’s Well That Ends Well)
Who doesn’t like a definitive conclusion?
Whether it’s a whodunnit, a children’s tale, or your favorite series to binge on a streaming platform, we like our stories to wrap up neatly, everything tied up with a beautiful bow.
But life doesn’t work like that.
If anything, we use fiction (particularly in a televised format) to escape reality.
In the first double episode of the groundbreaking series Seinfeld—a show that typically wrapped up its business in 22-minute episodes—Jerry remarked:
“Don’t you hate to-be-continueds on TV? It’s horrible when you sense the “to be continued” coming, you know? You’re watching the show. You're into the story. Then there’s, like, 5 minutes left, and suddenly you realize, “Hey, they can’t make it! Timmy’s still stuck in the cave. There’s no way they wrap this up in 5 minutes.” I mean, the whole reason you watch a TV show is because it ends. If I wanted a long, boring story with no point to it, I have my life.”
Of course, there are ways to overcome frustration by creating anticipation in whatever format of storytelling you choose.
Popularizing the Short-Form
When The Strand Magazine began running Sherlock Holmes stories, beginning in June 1891 with “A Scandal in Bohemia,” it was the perfect vehicle for short stories. The detective made his debut in an 1887 novella and then returned for another book-length adventure in 1890.
When publisher George Newnes launched The Strand Magazine in early 1891 with Herbert Greenough Smith as editor, he was looking to create a monthly periodical different from others. The submission of two short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle changed the trajectory of the magazine forever.
These stories were all self-contained and featured the same two main characters throughout: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson. Readers were able to gain a sense of familiarity with the characters, who existed in modern-day London.
After The Strand ran 24 of his stories between June 1891 and December 1893 (which would go on to be collected in two books, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes), Conan Doyle did the unthinkable: he killed off his main character.
The public outcry was immediate. The author received hundreds of letters objecting. One even began with, “You brute.” It led to a significant number of subscription cancellations, and Smith spent years imploring Conan Doyle to rethink his decision.
From Short-Form to Serial
Eventually, Doyle relented, bringing Sherlock Holmes back in The Hound of the Baskervilles, but was careful to note that it was “a reminiscence, not a resurrection” of Holmes.
Because he was trying to focus on his career as a historical romance novelist, the format he chose for this Holmes adventure was a novel. And The Strand was happy to accept this and publish it as a series, as Smith knew he could boost subscription numbers when readers would hunger for the next available chapter.
In effect, what Conan Doyle did was lengthen his story arc. Readers returned to that familiar relationship between the doctor and the detective, but they knew that the tale would not culminate in a neat conclusion in every issue of The Strand—at least not until the final issue came out.
Unease of Use
And this is the problem with the challenges in life: we don’t always know when we’ll reach the endpoint.
There are challenges we don’t anticipate, complexities that throw doubt in our plans, and the interminable waiting when control is out of our hands.
This is precisely why it’s important to know what your goal is, to state it clearly, and to mark your progress toward it.
Even if it feels as if things are stuck, communicating relentlessly with your stakeholders is a way to keep them aligned with the vision. Doing so helps them understand they’re part of the plan and that everyone is still pointed in the same direction.
The difference between tragedy and comedy is in the conclusion: hope or despair.
When you don’t yet know how things end in a given situation, the best you can do is to cheer your team on, reminding them that “all’s well that ends well.”
“His good remembrance, sir,
Lies richer in your thoughts than on his tomb.” — William Shakespeare, 1603
The future of beer was never certain. It evolved in unexpected ways: “Lager yeasts did not just originate once. This unlikely marriage between two species, genetically as different from one another as humans and birds, happened at least twice. Although these hybrids were different from the start, they also changed in some predictable ways during their domestication,’ said corresponding author Chris Todd Hittinger of the University of Wisconsin.” (EurekAlert!)
One of the great mysteries in history (and there are many) is what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke. It’s a story without an ending, which is always vexing for humanity; archaeologists have new evidence that points to one area as a possible destination for some of the colonists. (New York Times)
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” — William Shakespeare, 1603
With so much uncertainty in the world, where do people find meaning in life? Some 19,000 adults in 17 areas were surveyed about where they find meaning in their lives and what keeps them motivated. Unsurprisingly, family is the top choice overall; this interactive tool allows you to see where different topics and countries vary. (Pew Research)
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” — William Shakespeare, 1603
🎧 The Truth makes movies for your ears: short stories that are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always intriguing. Each story is different, and usually 10 to 20 minutes long.
📚 Teller of Tales: The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a fresh, compelling biography by Daniel Stashower that examines the extraordinary life and strange contrasts of Doyle, the struggling provincial doctor who became the most popular storyteller of his age. From his youthful exploits aboard a whaling ship to his often stormy friendships with such figures as Harry Houdini and George Bernard Shaw, Conan Doyle lived a life as gripping as one of his adventures. Exhaustively researched and elegantly written, it sets aside many myths and misconceptions to present a vivid portrait of the man behind the legend of Baker Street, with a particular emphasis on the Psychic Crusade that dominated his final years-the work that Conan Doyle himself felt to be “the most important thing in the world.”
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
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