There are three really tough parts to any writing project.
– The beginning
– The middle
– The end
As we have seen, there are land mines in every step of the writing process. Monday and Wednesday we covered the beginning and the middle. Today we will go over the end, but let me caution you. I’ve only covered the parts of the process where the initial writing takes place. Once the story is written, there is the editing process to contend with. But that’s a topic for another week. First we have to contend with the end.
The problems writers face with the end of a story are a little different than what has come before. As it should be, this is after all the end. But in some ways they are also continuations of the issues faced in earlier difficulties of writing. With the end writers face the postpartum depression of being done with characters they’ve just spent the last month or year with. Or perhaps they are so ready to be done with the project that they don’t follow it all the way through. There are many reasons that the end can trip up an otherwise strong writer.
Endings are hard. You have to find all the threads of your narrative and wrap them all up with a neat little bow. If all the threads don’t quite fit, you need to hang a bit of a hook on the ones that don’t get resolved so the readers know that there’s more to the story. In some cases you might even have to go back and remove some threads that aren’t going to get tied up nicely. You don’t have to do it now – a margin note to that effect will work. Not only do you have to wrap them all up, but you have to do it in a satisfying way. As a reader there is nothing quite so disappointing as a book that doesn’t end well (I don’t mean that you have to have a happy ending, just that the ending has to feel right for the book).
The good thing here is that some of this can be put off to the editing process. Some of the issues with making a good ending really need a fuller understanding of the story that you wrote than you may have at the end of your drafting process. Especially if your manuscript is full of margin notes tell you to change things earlier in the draft to make the next bit work out right. I’m guilty of that and often find that I can’t really do much with the end other than decide where the action stops until I go back and really look at what I’ve written.
Knowing when to stop. This is a reflection of that problem we saw in the beginning when you didn’t know where the story started. Well sometimes you end up with the same problem at the end. This often boils down to how long after the climax do you stop writing? Remember back in High School English class, all those discussions about the denouement? (The part after the climax when the characters get a chance to breathe). Every story needs at least a little space to tell what the climax means to the characters, but how much. There is no hard rule for this. You need as much as it takes you to wrap up all the threads. You need enough to be satisfying to your readers. If you’ve done your job right, they aren’t going to want to leave your characters any more than you do – and they’ve only spent a couple of weeks with them at the most.
My advice here is pretty similar to what I said at the beginning. Stop when you have nothing more to say, and edit out the extraneous stuff later. Here at the end we are much closer to editing, but don’t make the mistake of starting the editing too soon. Get everything you have out onto the paper, or computer document, so that when you come back to it you’ll have everything that you need. Just make sure you aren’t adding any new conflicts – that’s for the next book.
Finding the time. Not as much of a problem here, but there are still some time issues. Just like in the beginning and middle, time is something that you have to make. The issue at this end of the writing process is following through with the time you’ve already made. Don’t start getting lazy just because you are almost done. You can be lazy (for a little while) after you are done. Keep up the pace, the discipline or whatever until you are done.
The New Shiny Project. There is a distinct hazard at the end for wanting to move on to the next project. This is totally normal. Use it to your advantage. Let the new project be your incentive for finishing this one. Don’t allow yourself to move on until you’ve put this one to bed, with the reward for finishing being that you get to start that new project. This works really well for me. I often find that the next project is more interesting than finishing this one, but I don’t let that happen. The result is that I tend to speed up right toward the end so that I can move on.
Don’t want it to end. This is particularly hazardous one. When you get involved with your characters, you don’t want to leave them. This can cause all kinds of things like avoiding the climax, slowing down your writing, finding other things to do, etc. There isn’t much you can do about this other than recognize it and push through. Sometimes it helps to remind yourself that you still have the editing process to go through with these people. No, it won’t be quite the same, but you will get to play with them for a bit more. You can also promise yourself a sequel. Then the next shiny idea just might be with these same people and that will really light a fire under your fingers.
With the end, you have to get there. You can’t edit effectively without it. So if you find that you are just rambling on after the climax, just stop. You can make it pretty later.