I usually start a book knowing exactly how it’s going to end, but often through the course of the writing something changes. The character takes me in unexpected directions or when I get to the end I realize it wasn’t so great after all.
We spend so much time rewriting the beginning of a novel because that’s the part we’re told is going to attract the publisher’s/reader’s attention, but the fact is, we still have to meet their expectations at the end.
And often it’s not till I’m seriously into many drafts of a novel that I realize that that the ending is not really working. (note to self: remember to do this in the FIRST and subsequent drafts from now on.)
The problem with me is that I’m one of those people who puts the foot on the accelerator when I can see the finish line/the end of the road in sight. And this truly doesn’t work with a novel. You have to tie up all the sub plots and story questions, take your time to show the outcomes for the main character.
I’ve just finished the next draft of a novel that’s had many redrafts. This time, I stopped myself about 20 pages from the end of the rewrite and walked away.
I came back a few days later and approached the project as if I’d just picked it up for the first time and those last twenty pages were the first twenty pages of the novel.
This is what I realized about it:
My ending was pretty much a summary by the main character for the reader. “So now you see, everything is going to be okay.” It lacked tension, it lacked action – it was pretty much all telling and no ‘showing’. Eek, how did I know see that before? I had been fooled by the fact that the words read well, but didn’t really say anything meaningful.
So I went back and re-plotted those last twenty pages as if it was a story in it’s own right, and I am so much happier with the outcome. It’s not a big story, just a little one showing the ‘fall out’ from what happened in the climax, and what this means to the main character’s future.
I think the ending now has action, tension and a strong resolution – it’s not some sappy conclusions come to by the main character, where I might as well have just written ‘and they lived happily ever after’.
Other things I learned:
- Cutting the last line or paragraph can often be an improvement
- Re-ordering the paragraphs on the last page can make it work better
- Make sure all the loose ends for the sub-plots are tied up as well
- Link the ending to a theme in your novel, but don’t hammer your readers over the head with it
- Don’t be didactic
- Keep the character’s actions believable and interesting
- If you want to surprise the reader it has to be in a believable way – don’t add an inappropriate twist at the end, just for shock value
In the “Ask A Question” section of this blog, John wanted to know how you can end your story without finishing it too quickly. I think I can truly answer that now. Plot your ending out, just as you would the whole story.
Your story is finished when you and other readers feel satisfaction after reading the last word (and not just because you’ve finished writing it). There has to be satisfaction with the outcome for the main character, and a feeling that the story has reached a strong but believable conclusion.
In many ways, the ending is just like the beginning of your novel. You DO want them to keep reading. You want them to read your next book.
I hope this helps you with your story endings.
Feel free to ask your own writing question in the “Ask A Writing Question” section of this blog. If I can’t answer it for you, I’ll try to find someone who can.