You’ve done it, or rather you’ve almost done it. You’re almost done with your book. But here’s the most important part – the end.
This is the make or break, your readers have been engaged this far and you really don’t want to let them down. But what to do? How do you get through to the end? I’ve heard this referred to as the “writer’s event horizon”, the “long-slog”, that place where everything can either come together or completely fall apart on you.
Welcome to the beginning of the end.
Oh the end, the glorious end! The rush! That headlong slide toward the final epic battle. Or the big reveal. Or the cliffhanger. Or-
The end is where Lisa usually yanks on my chain, bringing me up short like an out-of-control puppy. *grins* I am notorious for rushing through the end of my novel, crazy and wild-eyed, desperate to finish. I tend to forget about the details, the important wrap-up of loose ends, and little things like grammar.
When I hit the “end” of the book, I tend toward extremes. I’ll either have to just write the hell out of it and hope I can fix things in edits because the story is screaming at me to write it down. Or I come to a screeching halt and stare warily at the end of my novel like a poisonous snake, unsure about how to take it down without getting killed in the process.
The rush option obviously doesn’t have much of a plan other than to throw myself in headfirst and hope for the best. *laughs*
When I do the other path though, I:
1) Revisit the outline – I like to make sure that I’ve got things in order, that all my loose ends are wrapped up and the readers aren’t going to have a “what the hell?” moment after they read the last word.
2) Revisit my character motivations – to make sure that everyone is behaving the way they would and not just doing what I want to make the ending fit.
3) Explore my options – I’m not always locked into an ending for a novel. I learned early on that it’s a good idea to be fluid with your resolution because trying to write toward a specific ending can really mess you up. If I’m not sure how it should end I’ll sometimes sketch out two or three endings and see which one fits the best.
Over the years, I’ve probably written somewhere around a two hundred stories, novellas, and novels. And it took maybe half of those before I figured out how The End worked for me.
You’ll know already from our earlier blogs on this topic that I’m a complete fogwalker. I don’t know what the next sentence or chapter is going to be, let alone The End. But there is a place in every single story—from the shortest to the longest—where a decision has to be made about what will happen at The End.
That spot happens despite the fact that I still don’t know the ending, but when I first started writing, I could get stuck at that spot for weeks. And it truly is a spot. It might be as small a spot as a single sentence or as big a spot as a paragraph.
But once that sentence or paragraph is written, The End is implicit in those few words. I don’t know what it is, I only know that I’m rushing toward it.
So this is what happens to me at The Damn Spot (which I what I call it), which, oddly enough, is what constitutes The End for me. Because once I get through The Damn Spot, The End is easy.
1. First, and most importantly, I have to figure out that I’ve reached The Damn Spot. Occasionally, I figure that out very quickly. Mostly, I don’t. I’ll just keep writing, unhappy and uncomfortable with what’s happening and not knowing why.
2. Eventually, I do figure it out because it’s not often I get stuck like that anywhere else. Once I figure it out, the next step is easy. I will rewrite the sentence (or paragraph) until it feels right. Occasionally, that takes me three or four tries. More often, it takes me ten or twenty or even fifty tries and I’ve learned to stop fretting about that because it works.
3. When I get The Damn Spot right, I just keep writing until I reach The End. And how do I know it’s The End?
4. The End comes to me and I’m there. Right there. No waiting. No worrying. No fretting. The End is The End. I don’t see it coming, I don’t plan for it, it just arrives. Full blown like the richest, most aromatic rose of summer. It’s a miracle.
As usual, I’m somewhere between Kate and Katy on the spectrum. I almost always know how I want the story to end when I first start writing, and I almost always realize – typically about two-thirds of the way through – that I’m not far enough along in the story to have the original ending I envisioned actually BE the ending. (It’s a good thing I write series, as the “original ending” generally works its way in somewhere else in the arc.)
Once the realization hits me – usually with a loud oh shit – I have two choices. A) Rework things so that I can use that original ending or B) Acknowledge that my subconscious knows what it’s doing, let that scene go and move along, trusting myself to find the way to the Real Ending.
I never take option A. 🙂
So how do I get from Oh Shit to The End?
1) Like Katy, I sit with my characters for a bit and make sure their choices and motivations are in line with their authentic (albeit fictional) selves. Then I check for stray threads, messy plotlines and unresolved questions that need to be answered.
2) I keep writing, keep moving forward in blind faith that at some point, the Last Line will manifest. It may materialize in the middle of the night or when I’m driving or taking a shower, but suddenly, it’s just there. I may not understand it completely (since I’m not tuned in to all that will precede it) but I recognize it for what it is. I write it down and set it aside, but I never forget it. It hovers around me like an aura, whispering its delicious secrets, urging me on – and making me a little nervous.
3) Now there is a plan, something I must work toward, so at that point, I do something I rarely do throughout the rest of the book: I start vaguely mapping out the remaining chapters in terms of What I Think Must Happen. This knowing is partly based on my notes from step one, but gut instincts play a big part in it, too. (Gut instincts always play a big part in my writing process; I’ve learned to trust them implicitly over the years.)
4) Once I have my “skeleton” outline, I make like Kate and just keep writing until one day, my fingers are on the keys, typing away and the Last Line appears on the page. Then the cork popping ensues!
Your turn, peeps. Tell us how you wrangle the monster named The End.