The Final Stretch

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Three quarters through the novel. At this point, the end is in sight. The main character has her darkest moment, then the big climax, and it’s all downhill from there. Easy momentum, right?

I wish.

Endings give me a lot of anxiety. Partly because it means I’ll soon be saying good-bye (at least until revision) to the characters and world, but mostly because I don’t have much experience with them.

Ten years ago, I was one of those writers-in-training who jumps from project to project, thought to thought, without properly finishing anything. I still feel like my endings often miss something. No idea what – the secrets of writing great endings are still beyond me; if I write one, it’s a fluke.

This also makes the final quarter of a novel some of the slowest, most agonizing writing from an already slow writer.

But I do know that from this point on, I can’t introduce anything new. No new characters of note, no new sub-plots, no new world building. (Not unless I edit in appropriate set-up and foreshadowing earlier in the book, but that can be a lot of work, so I’m ignoring that for right now.)

I have to keep reminding myself of this as I steer the ending toward where it needs to go. Because there’s more to the world that I haven’t been able to explore, or because another character would make this revelation easier.

But those are shortcuts – easy conveniences that are weak and lazy writing. Trust me: readers will know, and they will not be pleased. Using suddenly appearing, unsupported elements shows outright the “hand of god.” Also known as deus ex machina, and a cardinal sin in storytelling.

Exceptions, well, excepted. Of course.

Perhaps someday, I will be initiated into the secrets of writing proper endings. Until then, I cling to what little I know and remind myself every time I’m stuck (which is often) not to take the easy way out. I’ve already built all I should need. Now I just have to figure out how to use it.

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  1. Yes, yes, and yes. I am horrible with endings as well. Mainly because I enjoy torturing my characters but I really have a hard time giving them a scene that isn’t a building block to something else, you know? A slow down is really hard, especially after a climactic set of scenes with lots of excitement.

    1. I tend to opt for a “less is more” mentality, which leaves many things unexplained and a lot of free-floating loose ends. Ugh.

      Do you think there’s some secret handshake we just haven’t learned yet?

  2. I’m currently having deus ex machina terror with the current project. There is so much hinting throughout the story, and the character needs to appear and disappear, but I’m worried I didn’t do it right. Why is writing so hard!?!?

    1. This is what we have revision for! Because it definitely does happen to all of us, and sometimes we don’t realize we need a thing, or what it is we need, until we get to the end (but you can often tell the necessary from the extraneous because the former will fit and work so well with the rest of what you’ve built).

      If writing were easy, we wouldn’t appreciate it as much!

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