The End of the End

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Hello Everyone! Thanks for letting me play in the sandbox with you. Sorry about the mess . . .

This is my first regular blog here and I’m really excited. I’ve been thinking a lot about my first post. I was thinking that a person’s debut blog should be spectacularly interesting, erudite, funny, wise, sensational . . . Sorry about that too.

Right now, I’m a little insane. Those of you who know me are rolling your eyes and saying, yeah, right, like she isn’t insane most of the time. (They’re actually saying all the time, but I’m trying to put a positive spin on it. Sue me.) Anyhow, I just wrapped up the draft of Crimson Wind, which is my ninth book and sequel to Bitter Night. I’m also digging through the page proofs of my eighth book, The Hollow Crown, which will be ou in June. The deadline merge of two books at once has sort of pushed me over the edge.

So that brings without any sort of transition or segue whatsoever to my topic, which is: The end of the end.

Every part of a book is hard to write, especially while you’re trying to write it. I have a particularly thorny time with beginnings and the ends of chapters. The ends of chapters are hard (and this really is a transition) because they need to have some scene resolution, they need to make you want to turn the page, and they need to have some punch. For me, punch is a kind of a narrative exclamation point that gives the scene a little extra umph! They are particularly hard for me to write because I am never all that sure what that is going to be until I write it. It might be a slight cliffhanger moment. It might be a snarky comment. It might be a hint of foreshadowing. But it has to fit the moment and it has to make the reader eager to read on.

The end of the book is harder, and the end of the end is worst of all. The end of the book has to resolve character conflicts and plot conflicts. It has to make readers feel like their investment of time and money was worth it. It has to be exciting and dramatic, and cap off what has hopefully been a rollercoaster ride. At least that’s what I’m going for in my books. But the end of the end . . . that’s the part that can really drive a person nuts.

The end of the end is the last few hundred words of a book. Maybe less. It’s the last word, the last resounding note. It has to be powerful. It has to make your reader want to go back and reread. It has to be the cherry on the top of the cake—in itself, it won’t necessarily resolve any conflict, but it will add a certain something that will make the book memorable. It’s that lasting note that makes the reader think of your book again and again. It’s hard to describe what I mean. More along the lines of you know it when you see it.

What it is, is the last moment of closure. It’s frequently makes you feel like you’ll know what happens next in the lives of your characters—that when you close the book, their lives will go on. It makes you feel satisfied, like there was a final last word that made you go—yes! Exactly!

Writing the end of the end is one of the most difficult things for me to do. That’s because I do it by feel. It’s a sense of something finished, a sense of the door shutting firmly and everything fitting exactly so. It’s the sort of thing that makes you clap at your keyboard and say yes! Oh yes! You want to dance a little bit because you know you’ve hit the note—the perfect end of the end.

I know, it all sounds a little touchy-feely and there’s no good hard and fast way to judge whether you’ve hit the note right. It’s a gut feeling for me, and sometimes I spend a lot of time staring at the words on the last page, rearranging and adding and subtracting until it makes just the right shape.

Am I insane? Maybe. But the fact is that while I’m terribly uncertain about how well I accomplished some things in the book I just finished, I can say that the end is perfect. It hit exactly the note I wanted and it may make my readers hate me with a passion. I can live with that.

Even as I try to end this blog, I realize that this too requires an end to the end. That I need something pithy or something clever to end on, something that makes you want to come back and read again. Or I could finish out with something so pathetic that you have to come back and read in the same way you have to watch a disaster play out live on the TV. I’m hoping I do better than that.

So here’s my end to the end. There’s a lot of parts of a book. Each one needs to fit together just right to make the book good. But I think that it’s always worthwhile to take a good hard extra look at your first line and your end of the end. Make them both rivetting and compelling, if for no other reason than this: A reader is in the bookstore. He picks your book up off the shelf and reads the first line or the first paragraph. He’s delighted. But he’s got an odd (or not so odd) fetish. He needs to read the last page to make sure it’s going to end okay and he won’t be disappointed. So he does. And he discovers that end of the end is as compelling as the opening. So he takes it up to the counter and buys it.

We’re writers. We love our jobs, but in the end, keeping our jobs depends on readers buying books. Is it mercenary to think of how you can best make that happen? Maybe. But maybe it’s also survival. And it’s also good writing. Entertaining our readers, making them want our books, well, that’s our job. So write a good beginning and a good end, and then write a damned good book in between. And do try not to go insane while you’re at it.


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19 comments to The End of the End

  • Diana,

    I like how you’ve described the end of the end. This is the time in the story when the reader needed closure. I’ve read too many stories where the story continues long after the plot has ended.

    One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given when throwing a party is to end it while people are still having fun. At first this might seem counter-intuitive, but in truth if people leave feeling good they’ll want to come back. If you milk it until all the fun is gone, thinking they’ll miss out on some bit of fun if you don’t try to keep it going, their last experperience will be one of trying to figure out how to quietly get their coat and slip away when noone’s looking because it’s not really fun anymore. Not the best way to get them to come back. Or to read your next book.

    Congrats on your first regular post!

  • Yea DI!!!! I am so glad to see you here. I LOVE your fantasy world. It is new and original and full of action and pathos. I am a fangirl of action!

    You have written in 2 genres. Do you find the wrapping up process is easier in fantasy, harder, the same? Are you looking for the same things or something different?

  • I liked what you said about survival and wanting people to buy your books. I’m a beginning wordsmith (working to get to journeyman status), and how you explained the balance of writing basically for you and at the same time for the future reader was very helpful.
    Thanks!

  • John: that’s a really fun metaphor. I like it. Throw a good party and let them go before the booze and the food run out.

    Faith: Oh you’re so good for my ego! I’m so glad to be here! You know, in writing the end of the end for both genres, the same driving force applies. I think that UF tends to be a shorter and faster after the major action/plot elements wrap up.

    H. Vert: Thanks for coming by to visit and I’m glad I was helpful.

  • Mickey Spillane said, “Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book.”

    I write by “feel,” too. It’s amazing when you feel–and know–you’ve hit your marks. Thanks for expressing it so well.

  • Welcome to the fun house, Di! Great to see you here. I know how nuts you’ve been with work lately, and I know I speak for all of us when I say thank you for making time to post here at MW. This post is a great way to start your time with us. I love writing the tags at the end of my chapters. I feel that I’ve gotten pretty good at that. Starting and beginning a book are, for me, far more difficult and problematic. And ending an extended story arc — don’t even get me started. Er…as it were….

    You’ve written both extended story arcs and true serials; can you comment a bit on the difference between ending books in each?

  • Quote: Throw a good party and let them go before the booze and the food run out.

    AND you’ll have leftovers for the next day! Yeah, that really doesn’t apply to writing, but it sure does to the next day when a few canapes and a little hair of the dog would be nice. 😉

    I tend to do all of those by feel. If it feels right I’ll end a chapter. my current WIP, I tried to stay close to 5000 words a chapter, but now it’s changing with additions and subtractions to the revised manuscript. Still, if it meant going over or under because it felt right to end there that’s what I did.

    I’ve had way too much practice with story beginnings (having written plenty of them from 16 years of age to now…) and I’d like to think I’m pretty good at gripping an audience within the first paragraph. I’ve been told I can anyway. And it’s still the same. I write it as though I was reading a novel for the first time. What would I want to see as the opening? What would get me to turn to the next page? What would grip me and make me want to read more? If I handed it to a friend what would pull them into the scene?

    Just as you’ve said, for me, the end of the end just has to feel right. Like John, I’ve read a lot of books that just kind of left me hanging. Then again, I’ve also read novels where evidently the author couldn’t find those right words and the end dragged on for at least a couple more chapters when it didn’t really need to. Those are the books that have me flipping through pages to finally get to the end. I do like resolution. I just mentioned to someone recently who showed me a short film script that I’d prefer to see the resolve. However, going too far with the resolve makes the ending dry and loses me.

    I think I nailed the end of the end on my WIP pretty well. It was one of those moments where I typed it, I read it…I breathed a sigh of contentment…I read it again…I sat back and put my hands behind my head and just kind of felt…done. You know there’s still things that the characters have to deal with, but the plot is done and you feel good about their future.

  • Barb Mills

    Hey Di, Okay a question… what kind of sicko reads the last chapter of the book without reading the whole book? Thats like opening your presents before christmas and rewrapping them. Its just wrong! 😀

    What I really wanted to say is that its the first sentence of your books that grab me and I have not been disappointed yet. Love ya and keep writing. (lunch soon?)

  • Great end of the end there, Diana. 😉

    I want to say to John RH that his comment is spot on. I know I’ve just finished a good book when I close it and think “Damn! Why’d that bastard of a writer stop there? The fun wasn’t over.” It’ also a feeling that pushes me towards buying more work by that author. Mercenary? Sure. But I read spec fic, where mercenaries are heroes as often as not.

    Heroes who get paid.

  • Beginning with endings. I like it. Welcome and thanks for the great post.

  • John: That was awesome. I enjoyed it.

    Pooks! I love that Mickey Spillane quote. I’ve never heard it before.

  • David: That’s worthy of a post in itself. One that would be fun for all of us to take up because I’ll be the answers would be very interesting. The Crosspointe books, which are part of a serial, all have different characters so each stands alone. But the background arc of the story that ties these people together goes on. So for the books, the stories of the characters must be reasonably resolved, even as some threads of the larger story remain hanging and get taken up in the next story. That’s actually been very fun in terms of storytelling because each novel feels very complete to me, and yet leaves a lot available for the next story.

    The Horngate books are serial, but with the same characters. So as with the Crosspointe books, we have the larger developing issues in the world that they are dealing with, but within each, we have the central story of that book. Which is why the end of the end of Crimson Wind may make readers hate me. There’s a certain amount of cliffhanger to it. But the book story is resolved. This just opens up the next story. I don’t tend to like to do cliffhangers to my readers at the end of the book, but this one just feels really right.

    The Path book are a trilogy, so I knew where the overall arc was going. But Path of Honor was harder to end because it was really tied to Path of Blood. So it was a little bit less of an ending and if I could, i would go back and poke at that quite a bit more.

  • Daniel: It’s really interesting that you stick to a chapter length. I used to do that and then for one book, it didn’t work and so I left it and just wrote whatever was needed for the chapter. But what’s ironic is that in the last couple of books, the chapters have overall been of a similar length in each one. Completely unintentionally.

    Oh, yeah, when the ending goes on longer (party goes on too long)–that’s awful. Here’s a question I’m going to throw back to you though–does sticking to a chapter length in general help you? Hinder you? Why do it? I ask because I’d love to hear it articulated. What is your writing process that this works so well? Everyone writes differently and I love hearing about other people’s processes and you sound really aware of yours.

  • Barb–you’re a bookstore manager. You see these poeple all the time. You tell me who reads the end!

    You’re so good for my ego 😀 We may come see you this weekend, depending on my stupid back.

  • Atsiko: *laugh* You rock!

    Thanks April!

  • Missy S

    Hi Di!! Awesome post. And yes, insane but that’s why we come back!! Your insanity definitely makes what you write interesting… beginning, middle and end. :)

    And I was just noticing recently how I adore your chapter transitions. I am completely jealous. And that is something I so desperately need to work on!! So thank you for the advice!!

  • Haha! Actually, I think what stemmed the drastic rigid change is that the truth of the matter was, that after all this time, I really didn’t know exactly what my writing process was. I started writing at 16 and I’ve forever been a pantser, coming up with a beginning, a few vague bits of the middle and the end and then trying to write it from beginning to end. And I never finished anything other than a short story here and there that I never did anything with. And so, Instead of going freeform yet again I decided to toss myself in a far more rigid setup. I did the synopsis, the odd bits of gear and tech that needed explanations, character bios, and gave myself a vague time limit. I started at the end of May and wanted to get it done by August 10th, which was a deadline for a novella anthology submission I was originally writing it for. Then I also decided to try to keep the chapters at least slightly uniform with each other, as if the new structure I’d already imposed wasn’t enough. The other thing I did was keep track of my word count on a daily basis.

    I really only did these things to try to give myself more structure to follow, but whatever I did it worked. I finished the full manuscript (which had blown up out of control to the point where the word count was twice that of the max count for the anthology) in September. As far as the keeping a word amount on each chapter, It really wasn’t a rigid rule, more like a suggested amount, a way to make it so that I could keep track of around how big each chapter was getting. Some would come in a little less and some a bit more, which was fine. Now, as I add new scenes, change and modify existing scenes, cut extraneous bits and generally just clean it up, the word counts are skewing one way or the other, which is alright too.

    So, after going all mister long-wind, the gist is that I mainly just did it as a bit of structure to follow–a way to keep track of how big each chapter was getting and a way to keep me motivated (woohoo, I got another 5000 word chapter done!). It became a game for me to check the word count after each session and check the chapter sizes as I got through them.

  • Hi, Diana, and welcome. Sorry to be so late chiming in. Thanks for this thoughtful post and for the diligence with which you responded to queries! Good stuff.