Finding the End

Full moon rising the other night. Just a bit of nostalgia.

I’m catching up a bit here, on photos and topics, both.

The other day (see?) I had an interesting Twitter conversation with the charming Abby Mumford. She announced to Twitter at large that she believed was done writing her novel. Then she asked how she should know if she was really done.

This might seem like a silly question. Duh – you’re done when the story is over. Thing is, when you’re writing, you don’t always know when the story is over. In fact, if you’re like most writers, the story doesn’t really end at all for you. You have this sense of the ongoing thread of your characters’ lives. Perhaps this crisis is over, but it’s not like they all fall over dead at the end, not unless you’re writing a Shakespeare tragedy.

(Even with those, the role-call of deaths in the final act begins to feel a bit contrived. Really, Will? EVERYONE??)

So, I told her that, if she’d tied up all her threads, then she was done. Even a thread that continues into the future needs a nice little knot at the end of a particular story. She thought they were, but she was feeling still unfinished. I finally suggested that she type “The End” if it made her feel better.

She did and it did.

This might seem like a false resolution, but endings, especially on first drafts, are moving targets. By the time you go back through the whole novel, cut, amplify, eliminate, massage and tighten, then ending might have moved by 45 degrees. Which is necessary, sometimes. I’ve heard that  John Irving never starts a book until he knows the last line. But I also know, from reading about his process, that he revises over and over, getting to that ending.

For me, each book is different. Usually I have to write to find out how it all ends. With Middle Princess, I’ve had a pretty good idea how it ends, but I’ve been sneaking up on that ending for days now. In the past, when I’ve gotten close to the end, the words flow in a great, ultimate rush. Not so this time. I keep telling myself it doesn’t have to be perfect, that I’ll likely change it in revision. Still, it only feeds at a measured pace. I’m tying up the knots, one by one.

Soon, I know, I’ll be done.

11 Replies to “Finding the End”

  1. This is really interesting. I know that I don’t feel like a book is ever really “done.” It’s a creature in some degree of flux right up until it’s done with copy edits. Hopefully, by that time, it’s not still flailing around and is humming softly. But it’s never the same creature it started out as.

  2. Upon reading the title of this post, I got a cold shiver down my spine. For some reason, it gave me the impression that you were going to be discussing your own demise. I quickly glanced down to the last line for reassurance that the subject would be anything else.

    The last line was NOT reassuring.

    Luckily, I summoned the courage to read the whole post and was ever so relieved.

  3. I was watching the beginning of “Romancing the Stone,” where Joan Wilder is finishing her novel and types “The End” as she’s crying her eyes out.

    It was the first time I had seen that scene since I began writing 2-1/2 years ago. She knew when the book was over – didn’t she? But damn, I can’t imagine TYPING a book. I don’t know how people did it back then!

    I guess when you have no more conflict to write about, then the story is over. That’s how I see it, anyway.

    1. That’s such a great scene, Stacy! And yes, she definitely knew where all her conflict resolved. Aren’t we so glad we don’t have to type it???

  4. I find I usually know the ending as I begin writing the book. You’re absolutely right, that the characters will go on having other life happenings after the stuff I’m telling is over, but I don’t usually feel impelled to write the further details. Not saying I wouldn’t ever do a sequel but the “storm” or whatever they were living through has passed. Kinda like the ending of the movie “Twister”! And I DID bang out novels on a typewriter and STILL bang my poor laptop keys like it was a 1930’s Royal! LOL!

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