People say writing a book is a massive and impressive challenge. It is…all of us undertaking the adventure are more than aware of the size of the challenge and a bit like the rumoured pain of delivering babies (after all how would I know) we seem to forget all too quickly and find ourselves thinking it will be easier next time.
Worst of all headaches though, even greater than the headache that gets you into writing the book is the challenge of ending it.
Books start off as great ideas; a wild expansion of imagined stories, glittering characters and unstoppable drama. How do you manage to weave such complex webs and keep the story moving I hear asked many times? That bit's the easy bit, I say, the hard part is managing those threads and wild imaginings to a close. You may have gone into the enterprise knowing the ending already, others may see how it goes, hoping the end comes to them mid-flow. Either way you still have to tie up those loose ends, curb the instinct to blow everything up and fire the reader up enough that they will come back for the sequel once you’ve recovered from your mental exhaustion.
So as I’m undertaking the task of writing the end of my current project (Five Days is the working title…bet you can’t guess what that’s about) I thought I would define some suggestions that I’m running through on how to close the story down and perhaps some things to avoid.
1) You know the end already – clever you. It’s good to know the end you are aiming for, it shows extraordinary discipline and planning that you can plan a book until the last line. Writing it must be so easy, a bit like joining the dots. Seriously, it is good to do that, but don’t be a slave to the version in your notepad. Writing is a creative business so maybe as you are writing other ideas will come to you. Your characters may suggest a better idea than yours. Don’t be scared of listening to them, even if it requires a re-write of the odd section to fit the new end. After all the book is about them, the least you could do is consult them to see how they would see their demise or glory.
2) Stick to your character traits – so in the first 200 pages your character has been meek and mild, the world has trampled all over him and now he is stuck in a big hole waiting for the cliff hanger disaster to occur. Then turn the page and he grows ultrasonic biceps, climbs out of the hole then discovers a love for guns and goes shooting all the bad guys. Character development is good and we want our characters to grow with the story and some to decline with the story but don’t make a weak and feeble nobody into a superhero. The audience will be looking to how the meek and mild idiot will escape their dilemma. Turning him into the incredible hulk will not impress. This is a major challenge for me in my latest book as having made my main character an intelligent and thoughtful person placed in a situation where his life and few others are at risk, he will have to think his way out of the situation rather than bash everyone on the head and run for it. That means as the director of his life, I will need to think as he would, being innovative, original and believable, still retaining excitement and entertainment and get him of out of his debacle. A moment when I ask myself why I didn’t write children’s fairy tales instead.
3) Loose Ends – I’ve talked before about loose ends and the most important thing in an ending is that there are no loose ends. That doesn’t mean that all stories have their moment of closure, it’s perfectly fine that some storylines continue passed the timeline of the story. The trick of the writer is to close all the different storylines without troubling the reader with a list of outcomes. This is one of those areas where it is good to ask for comment from other readers. Unless you are tediously organised and have a checklist for every characters outstanding issues then you will likely miss some. Other readers might say to you that they loved the end but wondered what happened to X or really didn’t understand the motive behind Y.
4) Quality - A brilliant story needs a brilliant end. I refer to the previous flippant comment about blowing everyone up. Readers of A Very English Revolution might smile at that comment but this is a big problem. I write thrillers or crime and readers expect somewhat of a climatic ending. They want attention to be held until the last page and then blown away by a final revelation. We might love the characters we read immensely and we should care about what happens to them. We live on our nerves for most of the story on their behalf so giving them a happy and peaceful ending might seem a welcome relief to the trauma of the story, but would be rubbish. At the same time killing off all and sundry with a last minute literary bombshell might also seem too easy. I would suggest retaining those aspects of the previous chapters that got you this far. Challenge your characters with every last word of the story. Make sure the reader doesn’t think it was too easy for them. Think as a reader, think what the last thing they will be expecting to happen, then you’ll get the idea. Don’t be scared to do what has not been done before as long as it feels right for the story. Drama/ thriller stories have their rules of genre, but don’t be scared to break them for the sake of making a good end. You readers will reward your bravery if you get it right.
5) Most of all with the end – think about the next book you write…think about what the lasting impression you want the reader to have of your writing and your characters. You want them to come back so make sure your ending has all the elements that would ensure they have no reason not to. If they have stuck with you this far, they already like things about you. At the end readers are pouting with big red lips waiting for you stick yours on theirs and make everlasting love. It’s your window of opportunity to make that kiss one that delivers the message, not one that sends them home unsatisfied, cursing your impotency
Good luck with it