Ruth E. Walker
How do you know when you have written it? You know, that elusive perfect ending? That Thelma and Louise, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Harry Potter finish that completes the character arcs, ties up all the loose ends and leaves you longing for more but knowing that it’s all over?
Darned if I know.
Well, that’s not exactly true. I have some ideas, most of them gleaned from novels, stories and even poems that I’ve loved over the years. I also have some words of wisdom on the subject from other writers. And maybe, between them and me, you might glean some good ideas that you can use to help with finding a satisfactory ending to your work.
Paulo Coelho, Brazilian writer and philosopher offered me a clue: “It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” (The Zahir) I needed to be ready to leave my novel as if I were leaving the past of my own life: imperfect but inevitable. That led me back to my ingredient list.
Check your ingredient list
In a previous post (Write the Elusive End), I suggested that you need at least one of three essential ingredients for good endings. Either:
- Change (either your POV character or in the reader themselves);
- Inevitibility (sure, surprise me but that surprise MUST make sense); or,
- Tragedy (don’t fear an unhappy ending if it seems right)
I also noted that I had written/sketched out three distinctly different endings. All three had change and inevitability and one was full of tragedy.
I liked all three. So which one is the best one?
I went back to the beginning
An overarching theme in my current WIP is duality. I fretted about the ending until I finally accepted that I am writing a duology. Not a trilogy. Instead, a two-book series.
I know that each book must stand on its own, so I still needed that “perfect” ending. However, I now must ensure that I have planted sufficient treasures in the current narrative that will leave room for readers to achieve their ah-ha moments. And hints that will logically support my plans for the second book.
Accordingly, I’ve been editing.
Surprisingly, many clues were already in my manuscript and I just had to refine here and there. And some of the connections to the second book naturally flow from the ending as I continue to work on it. I just didn’t know it until recently.
Consider your passions
I’m profoundly interested in why people do things. Motivation, yes. But what else is in place to push people into horrific actions? And is there room for forgiveness? Redemption? If so, what must be in place for that to occur?
My character has to undergo a huge arc. From mindless killing machine to a compassionate deep thinker. And I have to show that arc to my readers so that they will know, without question, that she is not the same character as the killer on page one.
My readers will not be satisfied with a neat bow or happy ending. And my narrative will fall flat if I try to be kind to the characters I’ve grown to care about. So there must be tragedy. And there must be self-sacrifice. And there must be a choice to be made with only two options, neither of them immediately happy ones.
When I accepted that, I knew what had to happen at the end. So, I’ve been busy and by the end of this month, I will be writing those two words on my manuscript. The. End.
And then back to a new manuscript while I wait for feedback from my beta readers. Because, as Frank L. Baum said in The Marvelous Land of Oz “Everything has to come to an end, sometime.” Of course, this is rather ironic given that Baum wrote 15 more Oz books after that one.
I can only hope to live so long.
DID YOU KNOW
Writescape is on the move this June when Ruth and Dorothea Helms travel to Haliburton County to offer Write to Win, their popular workshop on the art and skill of entering and winning writing contests. These two skilled presenters are writing contest judges, contest administrators and contest winners. It’s a full day of insider tips, resources, hands-on exercises and creative activities. Saturday June 17 at the Minden Library. Come prepared to write and win. Details.