Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

Sweet, sweet endings March 25, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 6:52 pm

Everything, recently, has been ending. I’m reaching the ending stages of my magnum opus. I’ve finally critiqued the last chapter and epilogue for my writing buddy (it’s been nearly two years since we started exchanging works, one chapter a week), and, I’m approaching the end of my new writing project. Except that I keep evading it – according to my schedule, I should have been done two days ago. Still, I’m two chapters away, and just as I set about writing the end I find something else to do. Oh right, I wanted to add a scene where my character does this. Or I need to rewrite this scene – it’s really terrible. Or man, this table is dirty, I should clean it. And gosh, has the floor always been so scruffy looking?

Then it hit me. I have ending anxiety. I’ve battled with these characters, shared their heart ache and triumph, encouraged them when all hope seemed lost – how can I leave them now? But more than that, I’m not quite sure how to end the durn thing. I had one ending all plotted out; I don’t think I have the heart to execute it at this point. After reading Maurice, I started toying with a happy ending… but neither of those options felt very satisfying.

And when it comes to endings, I’m tough to satisfy. Only about one in three books I read have an ending I feel I can really chew on. I wonder if writers just run out of steam or paint themselves into a corner. Struggling Writer is thinking about writing the ending first, an approach I think has merit.

So what makes a good ending?

I’m a firm believer in keeping the action, suspense, drama, tension, character development, or whatever is the driving force of your novel, tight and relentless until the last minute. I like books that keep me wondering, how the heck is this going to end? Good endings tie up the loose ends. There should be a sense of completion; the journey has ended, and we have reaped its rewards. Having said that, though, I do like books that have a touch of ambiguity at the end (will they live happily ever after??). After all, life never just ends. Well, unless you die. Which is another thing I hate, books in which everybody just dies. It’s a cheap way to end it.

But the best endings, by far, have a transcendent quality, as if the author has boiled down the essence of the book and taken it just one step farther. Tolkien’s The Return of the King has accomplished this (movie watchers, you’ll have to read the book to know what I’m talking about – its one event I can just only barely forgive Peter Jackson for omitting). Maurice another of those. I suppose it pays off to ruminate well on the ending. In some ways, the ending is the point of the entire piece. And on that note, I’ll end this, and get back to ending my darn story!

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3 Responses to “Sweet, sweet endings”

  1. Thanks for the link. Focusing on the ending gives me something to aim for while I’m writing. You are correct about endings, too. I think endings are much more important that good beginnings. After all, the ending is what will stick with the reader, and a bad ending can ruin what is otherwise a good book.

  2. deano Says:

    I usually think of reading as a quest. Is there a lesson, a moral, to be gleaned? Sometimes it’s an unfair expectation – I should read books’ cover blurbs more carefully.

    I agree that tieing up loose ends is important. But I can live with a few dangling plot lines, although I’m probably out of the mainstream on that count. The devil may be in the details, but god is in the theme.

    That last line was cheesy.

    What inevitably stays with me, what counts toward whether I think the read was worthwhile, is that transcendent sense of being made aware of a truism. That’s when a narrative becomes a novel, in my book.

  3. itsy Says:

    Ooo, “being made aware of a truism”. well said. You’re right, and that’s what allows some novels to persist. I find this to be particularly true in children’s literature.


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