The sense of an ending

I’m reaching the end of my second Sam Dyke book, and it’s strange and exciting in the same breath. Strange because it’s been 2 years in the writing. Exciting … because it’s been 2 years in the writing.

My books come to me in flashes – a beginning, an end, maybe a scene from somewhere in the middle. Nowadays I write according to quite a strict outline, whereas in previous years I’ve just written away from a beginning towards a middle, then away from a middle towards an end. The scenes in-between have come as necessary to fill the gaps. With an outline, though, all the thinking is done in the planning stage and the writing does become easier. It’s a kind of structured inspiration. I use the creative flashes in putting together a structure, and then I stick to it.

But an odd thing happens as you get closer to the end of a book. All of a sudden you start to have yet more ideas. The plan you had for the end seems flat when there are so much more interesting ideas out there. But if you follow that new idea, does that affect what’s gone before? Without intending it, your perfectly structured ending goes out of the window as new possibilities open up. And new ways of rewriting what you’ve spent 2 years writing …

So the end becomes a potential new beginning. And you begin to wonder whether what you’ve been doing for so long is in fact working. Is the reader going to care what happens to your characters? Is she going to be able to follow the subtleties of the plot that you’ve cleverly built in … or are they so subtle that in fact no one could follow them?

The tendency is to rush the end. To get it all down as quickly as possible. To conclude the story line, wrap up the characters, and write THE END. So of course that’s exactly the time you have to slow down. Stretch out the ending. Take longer over the action. Put in more introspective moments at just the point that the action is heating up. Add dialogue between your main characters to help them understand what has gone on beforehand. Describe in more detail the precise facts surrounding the events that conclude your story. Because if you don’t, you get to the end of the tale before the reader is psychologically prepared for it. They bring with them everything that has gone before – the storyline, the characters’ development, the prospect of a future beyond the end of the book. And if you cut them off too short, they feel let down and deprived. The story has been ripped from them before they’re ready for it, and they’ll feel disappointed rather than sated.

This is the biggest lesson I’ve learned in many years of writing stories and novels: your readers have a sense of an ending that will be right and appropriate. You have to give that to them, or they’ll never forgive you.

Altered Life

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2 Comments on “The sense of an ending”

  1. bob Says:

    Another interesting meditation. Especially for someone who starts a lot of things but finishes very few.

  2. Simonne Says:

    Hi! I so love what you’ve written here. I read my first (and probably last) Tracey Harding book last year and was thoroughly engaged in it (to my surprise, as it’s not my preferred genre at all), UNTIL the ending! It was so trite and came so quickly and, and as you eloquently put it, I wasn’t ready for it at all.
    Anyway, my gripe about Tracey is done!
    I’d love to talk to you sometime about your experience with Lulu. I’ve been looking at it for a few months now with some interest. I bought ‘POD People’ by Jeremy Robinson from there and found that quite helpful (more about publishing in general than self publishing or pod, but still good). I haven’t finished my first book yet, but am keeping Lulu in mind as I know I’m a bit left of centre in the format of my book so may need to self-publish to try and get the ball rolling. Anyway, it’s great to read about your journey and your musings, so thank you.


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