I want to talk about endings. I just wrote a book. Most of it I wrote in six weeks. Then it took me just about a month to write the ending. Now I’ll admit, I had no idea what the ending was, and that time coincided with some time off I intended to take, and a family emergency I did not plan on. I finished the book two days ago. I was in the very last chapter and I finished that chapter, and then started the next very last chapter, and then I was within a paragraph or two of finished, then several pages later I was within a paragraph or two of finishing, and then a few pages later I was within a sentence or two of finishing, and then pages later . . . .
Well, you get the idea. I call this ending creep. It happens every single time I write a book. Stories, too. It drives me nuts.
So why do the ends of the stories become creepy? The main reason for me is that I’m looking to make sure that I’m hitting all the notes to make the ending satisfying. That means conflict and plot resolution, emotional climax, and a pithy closing. The worst part is that I’m working off a feeling–of whether I feel that it’s all there or not.
Okay, so here I am working on the end of this book. I’ve wrapped up the major action. I’ve not yet pointed to what’s happening next, but that’s coming. Well, I hope it is, but I haven’t quite figured out what will be happening next. I’ve gathered my major characters together for the aftermath. This is where the emotional stuff boils over and has to be dealt with, while at the same time, there has to be a resolution that points forward into the future (next book). So this story has to be resolved, and yet there are loose ends that have to make a reader want to read on to the next book. (This will be a duology). I know, at this point, that even though this is romantic, it’s not all going to be sunshine and roses. At the same time, I don’t want the two romantic leads to be stereotypically angry at each other. I want the troubles that interferes with the romance to be organic and not feel like it’s just something to break them apart. The truth is, up until this point I didn’t know if they would be apart or not. I had this image that said not, but frankly that never turned up in the book. So I was free to keep them together. But it was too easy. Too pat. I didn’t believe that they wouldn’t have to struggle more. So struggle they will. I think that the situation that pulls them apart and puts them on opposing sides is organic to the story and makes sense. So in the same moment there’s both a declaration of love and a separation.
So I’m writing the scene and I hammer out several important threads–the lovers and also how to handle some of the war stuff as I go forward. Since the two are deeply intertwined, that resolution felt a lot like the end of the book. Mostly. But it wasn’t. I didn’t have the emotional resolution that I wanted. Specifically, beyond the romance, I knew that I needed my heroine to make some active choices. She’s been growing into those choices throughout the book, but I needed her to make some decisions that were less reactive and more proactive. She needed to take a good hard look at what she wanted and decide to walk into the fire, fully aware.
I needed that ending because for me, while the romantic part was critical and while the action had a dramatic conclusion, the story is at its heart about this woman who has to confront herself and her past and her present and what she wants out her life. In the end, she comes to a choice of paths and and that choice is an interior conflict that’s been building the entire book. This is the central conflict of the book. So all the exterior stuff has largely resolved or pointed forward, but now this primary driving conflict needs its resolution.
It wasn’t enough to have her just make a decision and go from there. I also needed some panache. Something snarky/pithy that could leave the book on a powerful note. It’s like having the last word in an argument.
The end creeping, the time spent on that last chapter, both were a function of hitting all the right notes and of making all of those various endings strike together into a crescendo. I’m honestly pretty happy with it. There’s a lot of work going on and I’m hoping that it’s as satisfying to the reader as it is for me.
And now, to go clean it up and send it out.