Ginny's Writing Tips
Ending Your Book
Most writers get a story idea and without too much thought will come up with a beginning and an end. Then comes the hard part, the middle. Once the writer has conquered all the plot twists to move the reader from page one to the last page, one would think it is easy to sit down and write to those two wonderful words, The End.
The end should be simple, right? You have known what is supposed to happen since day one. Then why is the end of the book difficult?
As a writer, I've been at the telling of the story for months and months or sometimes years and years. I am sick of these people and their problems. I've read this manuscript to this point a zillion times. I just want the book DONE. Thus, an author will skim over the surface, solve the major problems and move the characters to their happily ever after or however the story is supposed to end.
As a reader, I remember six examples of endings in which I was dissatisfied. In the first, two couples were standing together and a man and a woman were assassinated. The reader was only told that the people were not married to each other. Who died; who lived? I was furious.
A second book dragged out the ending until I was ready to scream. Get on with it, please. Again, the impact was negative.
My third illustration was a story set in WWII at the beginning of the war in Singapore. At the end the hero went back to battle and the heroine sailed back to Britain around the Cape of Good Hope. In my mind this story required a epilogue. The reader had no idea what happened to those in which he/she had invested a book's worth of time. Did they ever get back together or not?
In the forth example, the author had the hero acting totally out of character. The man we had gotten to know throughout the story would never have reacted in the way the author portrayed him.
Then, there was a book in which the author totally missed the emotional impact of the scene. After a separation the hero returns and finds the heroine pregnant. They kiss and make-up. Done. Really?
And lastly, I recently read a book in which the hero killed a man. I kept reading, wondering why such a hero would kill someone. It had to be for a good reason, right? The author never gave the reason why or the how the killing occurred. This was the second book of a trilogy. If the reason was fully explained in the first book, fine. It still should have been repeated in the hero's story, at least in part. Books in a series should stand on their own.
I was privileged to attend a talk by Dr. James Robinson, author of an extremely well done—some say the definitive—biography of Stonewall Jackson. He mentioned how hard it was for him to write the end of General Jackson's life. Dr. Robinson said he had the birds singing in the trees and other miscellaneous trivia because he had come to know and love the general so much that he couldn't bring himself to say goodbye. When he recognized his delaying tactic, he fixed it.
What must the author do to write a successful ending? First, be sure all the loose ends of the story are tied up. Don't leave the reader guessing about happened to so-in-so, or who did what unless you are deliberating setting up for a follow-on story. (Be careful here. You want the protagonists of this story to have their tale complete.) Second, be sure you have given the emotional impact everything you have to give. Keep the characters in character and true to the time in which they live. Make sure they act in a logical manner. A surprise ending is fine, one to be desired, if it makes sense. Don't spring something totally out of the blue with nothing in the story to back it up. Another no-no is dragging out the end by dwelling on elements already told. Don't concentrate on miscellaneous information that detracts from the emotional impact.
Sometimes an epilogue is called for and sometimes one gets in the way. On occasion, what the writer planned isn't the right one for a satisfying ending. Two examples from my own writing are cases in point. In Where the Heart Leads I had a wedding planned as the epilogue. I tried writing the scene and it didn't work. The more satisfying ending was much later in the couple's relationship. We saw how the children had grown and how the hero had progressed in his career and how the heroine had adjusted to Army life. I wrote Bear Hugs fully intending to write an epilogue. When I finished the last chapter, I realized the story was told. An epilogue was not necessary.
The lesson here is to be honest with yourself. Look at the work objectively. Watch for the pitfalls and take the time to write the ending your book and your reader deserve.
© 2013 by Virginia H. McBlain. All rights reserved.
No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.