Earlier in the year I covered some tips about creating scenes, and most particularly in discussion about your novel’s first scene. I mentioned that the first scene in your book carries a special burden, and if you’ve been faithfully following this blog, you’ll recall we spent a whopping five months on just your first scene! Now, as we approach the end of this year, with only nine posts to go to wrap up this year-long intensive look at writing the heart of your story, I want to shift from scene endings to ending scenes.
Are You (More Than) Ready for It to End?
I promise we won’t take five months to go over this pivotal and crucial part of your novel, but it does require some attention. Writers tend to get a bit tired, burned out, and sometimes even a little sick of the story they’ve been crafting for months (years?) by the time they see the home stretch and often they push through or rush to wrap it all up so they can figure out where they left their life, kids, and keys that seem to have gone AWOL while they were hunched over their computer. But the ending scenes carry the next biggest burden in your novel, and so if you’re feeling the urge to hurry up and get the $%&*@ book done, or if you’ve already written an ending but it feels flat and ineffective, I’m hoping some of the suggestions I propose will be of help to you.
I recently heard the expression “Get in quickly and out quickly.” I hadn’t heard that before, and it came from a critique partner who felt my fairly short wrap-up ending to my epic novel Intended for Harm was right on. I recognize the truth in those words, for you don’t want to drag either the beginning or the ending of your novel. A “not-so-long good-bye” might just be a good thing. But it needs to be oh-so-right, short or not.
Oh Great—Another Burden
So, just as you have to cram in so many elements in a few short pages in the opening of your story, you also have to accomplish a number of big things in your last few pages. I really love writing the last scene in my novels. I feel it’s like a reward to me for getting to the end. And rather than looking at ending my book as a big chore with the pressure on, it’s usually a high, exciting, invigorating time at my computer, filled with joy. Of course, having done my homework in advance (see my soapbox speech on why you really do need to plan out your book ahead!) and jotted notes down as the novel progressed regarding what I need at the end of the book, I don’t have that horrible trepidation of finishing. I’m always a bit sad to write ”the end” because by that point I’m so madly in love with my characters and the world I’ve created that I don’t want to go away. I feel like Pokey (from the old Gumby cartoon show), who pops out of a book and zooms away on his weird horsie feet that slide along the floor. I hate the zooming-away part. Of course, I could write a follow-up book and drench myself in another journey with those same characters (and I do this in my seven-book fantasy series).
So, your ending takes some serious thought and planning because you have a lot of elements you need to bring out and tie up (not just plot but emotional payoffs as well). I’m not talking here about writing the climax of your book, although in some cases a climax appropriately comes in the last scene, and sometimes on the last page, of a novel. If that’s the case with your novel, you have an even greater challenge because you’re combining both the climax and the ending at the same time, which can be tricky. Most books tend to work best if the climax comes enough before the last scene or two to allow the reader to do some processing (and the protagonist as well) to the climax—the gigantic event or moment you spent your entire book building to (which answers the MDQ and shows whether or not the protagonist reached her visible goal). Maybe next year we’ll spend a few months on building to and executing your novel’s climax since there’s a lot to say on that topic.
No Pressure—Just Do Everything on the List . . .
A. S. Byatt wrote: “We are driven by endings as by hunger.” No pressure, right? How about some more pressure? Here’s what you should believe (and strive to accomplish with your ending):
- Endings should be unforgettable
- Endings should satisfy both the intellect and the heart
- Endings must wrap up all the loose plot ends
- Endings must clearly answer both the plot and spiritual MDQ (see my earlier post if you don’t know what this is)
- Endings should highlight the novel’s theme
- Endings, if possible, should somehow connect to something in your opening scenes
- Endings, if possible, should bring back a repeated motif used throughout the book (see my post on motifs)
- Endings should leave a significant take-home message or feeling that is powerful and lingering
Aim for That Unforgettable Ending
Three books with endings that blew me away are Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams (I cried my heart out), Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain (yep, cried even harder, but in a gloriously happy way), and Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (which had me gasping and delirious over how he wrapped everything he set up on the last page!). Don’t you want to create that kind of response in your readers when they read your last pages? I do!