Endings Are Hard

Dandy and Coco’s Beautiful Endings

Last week, I finished making Jim’s corrections to Wolf’s Soul, then sent the manuscript off to my secret beta readers.  When I told a friend this, she said, “You must feel really good to have reached this point.”

I sighed and shook my head.  “Actually, after seeing all the typos Jim found in a manuscript I thought was clean, I’m beginning to feel as if this book is a mess.  Actually, I’m relieved he didn’t find many continuity issues, but I still am more apprehensive than relieved.”

As the year ends, a lot of writers are trying to finish off projects before the holiday season interrupts creative momentum.  On top of NaNoWriMo, which emphasizes speed of composition rather than quality on content, many writers end up feeling conflicted.  After all, you’ve written the first eighty or ninety percent of the story.  Surely the momentum is there.  How can wrapping up the plot take so much effort?

I’m here to tell you: Endings Are Hard.  Here are a few thoughts I’ve had over the years about why this is so.

So often one hears: “I had a great idea for my story, but now I don’t seem to be able to finish it.”  When you’re stuck about how to end your story, go back to that first idea.  What was it?  Have you addressed the questions that first got you fascinated?

My novel Through Wolf’s Eyes began with two questions.  One was plot-oriented.  Who would be King Tedric of Hawk Haven’s successor?  The second was thematic:  How would moving from human to wolf society effect Firekeeper?  Until both were answered, the story could not end.

Remembering your initial impulse works to keep you focused on your ending, whether you outline or, like me, are an intuitive plotter.  A short note – sometimes as little as one word – can keep you on track when you start to wander off target.  Get in the habit of writing this down at the very start so you can refer back when you get bogged down.

Can’t figure out what that initial impulse was?  It’s possible you started off without enough thought.  As Euripides said: “A bad beginning makes a bad ending” (Euripides, Aeolus).  Either you need to figure out what you meant this story to be about or you need to scrap it as a bad beginning that isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t be discouraged that you can’t find your ending.  You’re not alone.  Author John Galsworthy said, “The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy, the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and, eminently, the finish of a voyage” (Over the River).

Middles have their relationship to the end, too.  Author Walter Jon Williams has a good comment on taking ending into middles: “Inspiration will carry you through the first 100 pages.  After that, you need a plan.”  Walter has sometimes jokingly referred to the middle of a novel as “the fiddly middle bits.”  Remember, though, there’s no such thing as “fiddly.”  Every scene should move you along toward your end.

Again, the beginning – that inspiration – should be your guide.  You may find it difficult to end your piece if you introduced too many subplots or extra characters, just to move the book along.   How much research is too much?  Simply put, if you’re more captivated by researching than by the actual writing, it’s probably too much.  Another guideline is when you find yourself putting your research in because “I did it, so by God they’re going to read it!”

There different types of endings.  Which one is yours?

Conclusion vs. Closure or “Only English Professors love stories with inconclusive conclusions.”  This was one of my own first lessons, and I will be eternally grateful to my then editor John Douglas at Avon Books for teaching it to me.

The Cliffhanger?  This type of ending is chancy – especially if your audience is going to need to wait a long period of time for the next installment.  Even books in a series need some sort of closure.

When do you Need an Epilogue?  My opinion is rarely.  One of the pleasures of a story for a reader is speculating on what might happen in the on-going lives of the characters.  An epilogue can make the story die.  However, a good epilogue can remind the reader that the characters went on after the concluding battle.

Ending a short story presents its own problems.  A short story must be easier, right?  After all, there are fewer pages.  Actually, it’s not easier because so much needs to be packed into a few pages.  Roger Zelazny (who won a lot of awards for short fiction) said a short story should feel like the last part of a novel – give the feeling for what came before but focus on those final moments.

In other words, a good short story is one big Ending…

A few ending words on Endings…  It is my firm feeling that the story must end – and this applies even if that story is part of a series.  Writing a series that keeps postponing the ending is one reason why so many series are unsatisfactory or become weaker as they go on.

A strong ending is necessary for a book to be satisfying.  Many times I’ve read a book with a strong start only to be disappointed by the conclusion.  Conversely, I’ve read several so-so books that have risen in my estimation by having a solid ending that makes the rest of the book fall into place.  A strong ending does not necessarily need to be shocking or have a “twist.”  Indeed, an ending that “comes from nowhere” can be a huge turnoff.

Thinking back, I realize I was hard on myself when I told my friend I didn’t feel “relieved” to have finished Wolf’s Soul.  My apprehensions belonged to the “production” side of the process, not the creative side.  Creatively, I’m pretty pleased about the book…  Of course I have questions as to whether I communicated what I was trying to communicate, but that’s what editors are for!

4 Responses to “Endings Are Hard”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    I always hate the end of good stories. Even if the ending is perfect, it means the story is over.

  2. Jim Queflander Says:

    Mrs. Lindskold,
    I would first like to say that I appreciate your sharing your insights on book writing. Hopefully you wont mind if I print this message off and put it on my wall to give more inspiration to me to get up and dust off the book I started writing in 1999.. yes it’s been on the back burner for so long, but luckily I have kept a lot of notes on what I was wanting to do with it, the journey I had planned, the themes and topics I was going to tackle with it (the book is geared as a educational adventure, dealing with topics such as divorce, handicaps, and even the hard to understand from a child’s perspective, death, in stories told through animal characters). I would like to state that it was because of discovering your world of Firekeeper and Blind Seer, that I got the inspiration for undertaking the journey. Loosely based upon family members, the whole story just came into my mind, and due to health issues and relocation and work, I just didnt have the time to devote to it. But I am really looking at forcing myself to make the time to get back into it again.

    Secondly, I would like to say not to be so critical of yourself. We all tend to make grammatical errors as we write. We get so involved in the creative process, that we look on it as our baby, and we get protective of our work, but we accept the flaws and quirks because they are apart of our every day lives, our mannerisms and such. Having others spellcheck and check for grammar shows that you want the people who will read it to not struggle with unfamiliar terms, incorrect sentence structures, and the ever present typo gremlins. I think I mentioned before of how I have worked on the book I’m working with, in that after a while of writing, I use a simple text to speech program, which reads the text out loud so you hear it from a narrative point of view. This simple little piece of software really helps me, as you ‘hear’ what doesn’t really work. I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but perhaps one day you would do me the honor of reading what I have written (about 65 pages last I recall) and just give an overall impression of whether it is worth pressing forward with or to start a different project.) I am sure you get bombarded with lots of aspiring writers asking to submit things, so I would understand your declination to this invitation. In the meantime, I wish you continued success in all of your endeavours, to have a wonderful Christmas with your family, and may you have a great new year in 2020.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Hi — At the advice of my agent, I only read unpublished works under certain conditions, such as judging a contest or the like. So nothing personal, but I’ll decline your offer to let me see your work in progress!

      • Jim Queflander Says:

        That is fully understandable. I appreciate your reply. Do you have any advice on how to overcome writers block that occasionally happen to writers? I’ve found myself getting into a few blocks, but when I do, I tend to move onto other sections of the book, then try to come back to the previous area and try again after a bit of time. Do you feel that this is a positive way to keep moving forward in your opinion? I don’t mean to be a nescience, but sometimes hearing suggestions from others tend to help lead to better ways to approach writing in a more creative and inspired way. Thank you again for your time in reading my posts. I will be starting to ready Wolf’s Search by this weekend when I finish the book I am currently reading. I can’t wait, as I know the adventure will be worth the wait.

        Sincerely,
        Jim

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