Endings … to Your Novel, That Is

Piecing together a storyline can be like piecing together a puzzle.

My friend and fellow writer Catherine Maiorisi responded to my last post with commiseration. Reading her note, it occurred to me that maybe I’m not the only writer who sometimes struggles with endings.

Since I write mysteries, one would think that my main goal would be an ending that is, above all, logical. However, I am not, despite my most sincere intentions (and my Myers-Briggs personality score), the most logical person. And therein lies the problem.

The use of pure logic for plot development (i.e. a logic tree) can certainly produce a logical ending. In fact, it will usually produce several logical options for endings. However, it will not answer the question of which ending feels right.

What does that mean? For me, it means an ending that is emotionally satisfying, one that brings about a sense of completion.

But wouldn’t a logical ending provide that automatically? One would think so, but I’m not so sure. I’ve seen movies and read books where the ending was quite … logical. But the ending felt cold, as if the author had just stuck it on, as if s/he’d made a detached, rational decision that came out of nowhere, at least emotionally and created more questions than it answered.

Hmm… I’m really struggling here to put something into words, something I’ve actually never really thought about before.

The endings I’m trying to describe fulfilled all criteria for pure plot development, but somehow missed the mark in terms of character development and emotional integrity. Simply put, they left me feeling dissatisfied, hungry and … cheated.

Needless to say, I’m striving to deliver something that will be quite satisfying. In the past, the times I’ve felt most successful were those times when I relied least on logic and most on intuition.

You’ve heard writers talk about “being in the zone.” You’ve heard people say that the story “practically wrote itself.” For me, that translates into being so immersed in the story that you see what your characters see, feel why they feel, and then, the ending flows with a sort of inevitability. This then raises the question of outlining, or pre-planning your novel.

I do believe in writing notes, ideas, etc., and organizing them. I do believe in taking a legal pad and drawing lines that lead every which way to connect characters and scenes and problems and possible outcomes. The problem, for me, is that at some point all this outlining is just that. It’s outlining — not writing. And only through writing do you relinquish your detachment; only through writing do you forget yourself and your preconceived notions. It’s only through writing (not thinking about writing) that you slip into the world of your story to discover its secrets, its surprises and find your answers.

Does any of this make sense? More to the point, does any of it help? And what, exactly, have I decided to do?

OK.

I have … decided to totally throw away the last third of the manuscript. In reviewing it, it’s very clear when I stopped being in the story and started writing from outside of it, trying on endings like hats.

I have … decided to review what my main characters want to achieve. One of the greatest sources of satisfaction stems from a beloved character triumphs in achieving a meaningful goal or a thoroughly despicable one is totally thwarted. Of course, this is a total oversimplification, but it can still be helpful. What do my characters most desperately want? What have they done or are prepared to do in order to obtain it, and will they get it in the end?

I don’t know if this approach will lead me to the ending I hope for, but I’ll give it a try.

You’re welcome to share your thoughts with me.

In the meantime, take care and thanks for stopping by.

Best wishes for a great writing day!

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Comments

  1. Endings are tough, especially the endings of mysteries, where the outcome cannot be obvious, per se, but must, as you wrote, be logical.
    It would seem that there should be an ending that your novel is points to, hints and foreshadowing that may not predict, but like a compass, indicate the ultimate direction, if not destination.
    I write fantasy, which is a completely different beastie, but usually, when a story idea occurs to me, the ending is part of that inspiration. It’s the middle that is more often than not the problem for me. That’s not to say that the ending won’t change in the writing of successive drafts, or that it won’t change perforce due to external influences, such as editorial direction :)
    I think you’re on the trail of your ending though. Having “tried on” various possibilities, you know that they don’t fit. You have some literary sleuthing to do, and like any good detective, in the end, you’ll get your “man.”
    Good luck and good writing,
    Mel

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