How do I end it all?

I have discovered the biggest challenge I have as a writer is how to end a story. I always admire other authors who can end a novel perfectly, sliding in to home base gracefully with a rousing cheer from the crowd. Meanwhile, I have the impression that as I’m racing from third base I start to stumble over my feet and fall flat on my face as I hit home. I then hop up as quickly as I can, dust myself off, and look around furtively to see how many people noticed.

I spend a lot of time trying to rewrite that fateful run.

The problem is not limited to novels. It can also include blogs. In the past, I even worried about how to end e-mails. At least, I have finally come up with a fail-safe method for those. The reliable ‘Have a nice day/evening/weekend’ is always well-received, often prompting the same ending when the e-mail is answered.

The problem with endings is that they can easily sound awkward. It’s like being at a party and not being sure how to make your exit.

First of all, it’s about timing. You don’t want to leave too early, because then you’ll be branded a party-pooper and a disappointment. On the other hand, you don’t want to be the last to depart, because the hosts will be rolling their eyes behind your back and wondering how to get you to shut up and leave. I have spent countless evenings trying to convince my spouse it’s time to go. But, I digress.

Secondly, it’s about how to say your goodbyes. Is a simple ‘Thanks, that was fun.’ sufficient? Should you put more feeling into it, with a hug and an exuberant ‘It was wonderful!’? Of course, it often depends on how well you know your hosts and, in some cases, how much alcohol has been consumed during the evening. You may not have any choice when it comes to the level of exuberance. But, again, I digress.

My point is, in my opinion, the ending of a piece of writing has the highest potential for awkwardness and I tip my hat to those who have mastered it. After all, it is when you and your reader go your separate ways and you want to leave them with a good impression.

So…um… I guess that’s it. Anyway, have a nice day (evening/weekend).

****A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal being released in July 2015 by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under books, fiction, writing

5 responses to “How do I end it all?

  1. I think all writers at times wrestle with endings, A.J. I run about fifty-fifty with endings to which I write—that is, I know ahead of time how they will end—and others that, first, I have no idea how the story will end, and second, those with which I’m just not happy.

    My latest novel, A World Without Music, contains, in my opinion (which isn’t always humble), some of my best dialogue and narrative; yet I’m still not happy with the denouement. On the other hand, a reviewer called it out as “a surprise, unsettling maybe, but perfectly in tune with what came before”, so it likely doesn’t matter that I’m unhappy with it.

    Bottom line is we are always our own worst critic.

    For me, endings can’t be rushed. Too many writers think that once they near their word count limit they must end the story. To the reader this feels as if they’re falling off a cliff, that the whole story is contrived (which it is, but they should never be made to feel as if it is).

    In one of my other novels, I reached the three-quarter mark and still had no idea how it would end. Frightening? Yes. Frustrating? Of course. But I refused to let that deter me; I kept writing, trusting that it would come to me at the proper moment, and did it ever! I count that novel, and its ending, as one of my favorites.

    Learn to trust your instincts. In fiction readers expect tidy endings, happily ever afters; but there is nothing wrong with the occasional unsatisfactory ending. After all, art should at times imitate life.

  2. I think I tend to rush goodbyes. Luckily my editors have taken me to task about rushing the endings of stories. I like your analogy – the end of a book really is like a farewell

  3. A.J., for me endings are like bundling a bunch of wild flowers and tying it with a ribbon. The stems of the wildflowers are the red herrings, the denouement or unraveling or clarification of the plot and/or relationships therein. The challenge is to insure that all the stems are tucked into the bundle and then satisfactorily tied with the bow of content for the reader. During my writing, I make lists of things I want to resolve, explain or leave the reader thinking about. Then when the time comes, I tie them all together. Hopefully, they appear neat when placed in the “done” vase. 🙂

  4. Its a thought but if you don’t know how to end it, it may not be the end. The end tends to suggest itself. The story expires or concludes almost without asking, and you have to trust it to guide you. That’s all I can offer I’m afraid

  5. I love this. Great analogy!

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