Friday, November 9, 2012

The Bittersweet End

I hate endings.

I still have the last half-season of Battlestar Galactica hanging around on my DVR because I can’t bear to watch it end. (NO DON’T TELL ME WHO THE FINAL CYLON IS.) The more I’m enjoying a book, the slower and slower I read it toward the end, savoring every word, dreading the point when I reach that last page. 

I hate writing endings, too. I feel like we lifelong aspiring writers are bound to be better at starting a book than finishing it. When we first take a stab at writing a novel, we inevitably end up with 800 first pages and then, only much later, are we fortunate enough to carry a story to its completion. So we’re already better practiced at launching our plot than guiding it safely back down to earth.

Fortunately, there are a couple things we have going for us as we reach THE END.

Momentum. When I’m really into the draft I’m writing, right around the time I hit that third act marker, the words are flying. Every plot thread is untangling itself in my head and I have a good enough of an idea of what needs to happen to conclude all the various components that it becomes a frantic race to the end before it all unravels in my brain again. Of course, the downside is that you inevitably forget something, which makes for very annoying revisions.

Inevitability. In a lot of ways, endings write themselves—there’s only one way the story can end, and chances are good you had some idea what that was when you started writing it, though you can and should do your best to obfuscate it from the reader. When the book ends, they should have both never seen it coming and also know that it could never have ended any way else. (Not asking for much, those readers, huh?)

Closure. You love all the wonderful plot threads you put into your story, right? You want to give each one of them their due. So if you find that you just can’t sort out a good way to close something out that builds off of the overarching plot, then maybe it doesn’t really belong there in the first place. Make a note to yourself, drop it, and trim it out in edits.

I hope these tips will help you get through your own endings! I can’t make them any less bittersweet, but hopefully you can use these guidelines to end them on just the right bittersweet note.

1 comment:

  1. Great comments on endings! I'm nearing mine write now, and it's driving me crazy--all the loose threads I'm frantically trying to pull together. I outline, but not super detailed, so near the end I always have to make a detailed plan so I can keep track of all the plot points, character arcs, and needed closure for the ending. It's tricky, but satisfying when I can pull it off! (Though it always seems impossible at first.)