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Crafting an Ending that Sings
Last week, I got a tough question in the Misfits & Daydreamers forum:
I usually have a beginning and middle, but endings are torture for me. I can never ever find one that lives up to my standards or really fits with my vision. Some writers just have an ending in mind and I don’t understand that T_T. How do you choose your endings and how do you know it won’t disappoint your reader?
That's hard for me to answer for 2 reasons:
Everyone is different and what works for me might not work for you.
I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I DO. Ahem. Which meant I needed to sit down and figure out my process.
Fortunately, I am in the middle or rewriting an ending that sucked. So analyzing my method couldn't have come at a more convenient time. (Thanks Sue! ;))
An Anecdote on Messing Up (we all do it!)
See, I decided to completely gut the last 1/3 pages of Truthwitch. Yep. You read that right. 300 of 465 pages were polished and ready for my editor. I was just awaiting feedback from a CP (critique partner) on the last chunk of the book. Well, when I got her notes on a Friday afternoon, they were not as positive as I'd hoped. Plot-wise and setting-wise? Great! Character arc and romance? Pfffffftttt....[1. She didn't say it like that. She is much too nice and supportive for that. But that's what my heart felt like hearing her criticisms.] For those of you who are writers, you know how much it sucks to get less-than-positive feedback. Especially because endings are the easiest and most incredible writing experience for me. I LOVE endings. The momentum of drafting hits its stride right before the climax, and suddenly I'll just SEE how all the plot threads and character arcs are going to gel together. To find out that this ending, which I'd also written in a flurry of joy, lacked a HUGE component of that (emotional resolution and power)...I was, well...I was crushed. And very angry with myself for not seeing what my CP so easily noticed. But part of being a writer is always striving to make the best book you can, right? So I hunkered at my usual 5AM work time on Saturday...and realized that simply addressing comments scene-by-scene wasn't going to cut it. It turns out that in the course of writing the book, I had lost touch with my characters. In my defense, I took a looooong break while the first 150 pages were on submissions (many months of break). When I tried to wade back into the book once it had sold, I was disconnected from the characters. Totally disconnected—which has NEVER happened to me before. But I muddled onward anyway, finished the book, revised it thoroughly, and sent it off to my dear CPs. First 300 pages? Great! But the rest? Oh boy, there was something missing. It all worked on a plot level, but the story could be so much deeper and have so much more KAPOW. But since I'd lost touch with the characters, I needed to go allllll the way back to the beginning of the book. Then I needed to separate out each POV (of which there are 4)...and then I needed to reacquaint myself with each character and make sure all of their dominoes were falling in the simplest, most logical way. More importantly, I needed to ensure those dominoes toppled and fell toward an ending of sheer awesome. Dominoes, whaaaa?
Look at Your Dominoes
Remember when I talked about the Domino Effect here? Well, in that post, I said:
I once heard someone compare the scenes in a book to dominoes–our inciting incident sets off the domino chain, and each scene is a direct result of the scene before...[but] the dominoes don’t represent specific events so much as our protagonist’s emotional journey through the events, and the dominoes also represent how events shape/affect the primary goal. Each new scene will show our character reacting in some way to what happened before.
Because I'd been away from Truthwitch for so long, I didn't have a handle on my dominoes anymore. Character reactions were falling flat, characters were acting out of character, and there was no emotional resonance at the book's close. But when I went back to the beginning, separated out each POV, and looked at individual dominoes, I was able to see how things should've fallen. I was able to rediscover the 4 POV's voices and make sure that each step they took was a direct result of what they'd done/felt in the previous scene. Then I rewrote the ending. Yep. Threw out >150 revised pages and rewrote them completely—new dialogue, new setting backdrops, new trajectory and choices. And AHHHHH, it felt good. The words poured like they normally do! More importantly, I sent the new ending to my dear CP, she flailed exactly as I'd hoped she would. I'd nailed it—thank goodness! SO, all of that anectdote was to simply show you what I mean when I say: look at your dominoes before you write an ending. Look at the plot events—see how each domino hits the next until the climax. What event would need to come next based on all that has come before? More importantly, make sure that your characters' emotional dominoes fall in a logical, ever-growing way. Characters change, right? They start out one way and by the end of the book, they're someone new (and hopefully someone better too). When the character reaches there "new self", if all the emotions have been leading up to that, then your story will SING. It's just like watching a super-satisfying domino display—it all fell where it was supposed to fall, even if we couldn't quite see that ending from the beginning.
You tell me: how do YOU write endings that sing? [box]If you like what you read here, consider signing up for Susan's newsletter, Misfits & Daydreamers.[/box]