All the Way to The End
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright © 2009 by Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved
Writing is often a difficult task from beginning to ... end. Lately, I
have talked to a number of people who say they have trouble actually
ending a story. This is not about people who write the opening and
then leap to something else, or even those who get into the middle and
then give up. In this case, it has been people who go all the way down
to the last few chapters and then stop. In some cases, they get
frustrated and give up on the book, negating all the hard work they've
already put into their project.
The end of a story is both exhilarating and frightening, especially if
you have put a significant amount of time into the work. You want it to
flow right, to have an impact and to leave the readers wanting to read
more of your material.
This workshop is going to go through a few of the problems that may be
holding you back from writing The End on your manuscript.
Let's start with the first, most obvious problem.
Problem 1: I have no idea how to end the story.
Sometimes this happens because the author wandered around without a plan
and never really defined the main conflict, so it's hard to decide how
to finish the story. Other times, he worked out the story in great
detail ahead of time, but (as often happens) the story changed somewhat
in the actual writing, and now the ending doesn't fit the earlier work.
What to do:
The first thing to do is define the goal of the Main Character(s) in the
story. This is related to what danger the characters had to overcome
and what 'treasure' they hoped to win in the end. If you had done this
in your original prework but found that it doesn't fit now, it's time to
redefine the goal and the ending.
Almost all stories are quest stories in some way or another. A romance
is a quest for love, mystery the quest for an answer and justice, sf
might be a quest to find aliens, to answer a mystery -- any number of
things -- and fantasy is, obviously, quite often a true quest story. In
nearly every story, the main character has a quest for something. Once
you define it, you are better able to see what the ending should hold.
The end of the story is when the character finishes that quest, for good
or bad. Not everyone wins, after all.
An ending usually comes in two pieces -- the climax of the story, where
the final confrontation takes place and the denouement which is a little
piece (usually only a two or three pages) that show the aftermath. Some
books do not have a denouement at all.
Define the goal of the main character. What is it the character wants
to win? The man of her dreams? Solve the mystery of who killed the
lighthouse keeper? To make contact with the aliens and hold back the
The goal cannot be too easy, of course. You know that if you have
already written the book -- but it is something to consider when you are
looking at how to end the story. The final conflict has to be over
something important. And it cannot be an easy win.
Which takes us to --
Define how that goal will be met (win or lose) and what the final
confrontation will include. This might be a fight with the villain in
some books or the strike of a meteorite in another (though, obviously,
the book will have been about knowing that meteorite is coming). In a
romance, it might be a confrontation between a man and woman who love
each other, but who have not been able to voice those feelings until
now. In a mystery, the detective will have found the final clue and
understand the answer to the mystery -- which might well put him or her
in danger at that moment.
This may seem like a silly thing to have to work out, but if you can
visualize the ending and what you want out of it, you can better channel
the last of the book towards what you want. If you don't know what the
goal is, there is no way you can see what the ending will be. If you
don't see who is involved in the final conflict and how they are going
to face one another, then you can't work out how to create that ending.
You might have a vague idea of the ending as you write, which is fine --
but if you get to the end and can't quite visualize or write it, sit
down and work out the goal and how to create a powerful scene that meets
the needs of that goal.
Writing the denouement takes a special touch. Quite often, the writer
tries to go too far, telling the reader all the things that happened to
the characters later -- that later being far outside the range of the
story they told. Never write more than a couple pages after the final
confrontation. Whatever you do, don't make it dull! Donít take the
reader too far from that confrontation or they might finish the book
with the feeling that it was dull.
The denouement might be a little bit immediately after the
confrontation, or it might take place some time later, showing the
changes that came because of the confrontation. Either way, it must be
1. Define Goal
2. Define how to meet the goal
3. Define the limitations of the denouement
Figuring out the ending is an easy problem to fix. However, there are a
couple other problems that sometimes will stop a writer from finishing a
work. These are harder to deal with.
Problem 2: Life's work
There are authors who have put so many years into writing their novel
that the idea of actually having it finished is like seeing a part of
their life about to be torn away. They fear the separation that will
happen once they write those final lines and leave them without the
writing that has been a part of their thoughts for so long.
What to do:
The answer here is to start looking for a new story before you
reach that ending line. You don't need to start the actual work on it,
though. Write a few notes, maybe some background work like research and
worldbuilding -- just enough to whet your appetite for something new.
Having a new project is exciting -- and far better than lingering over
the ending of a story that is, really, mostly told. New stories mean new
adventures and new challenges. This can be a good step for any writer
who is coming to the end of a project, though it can be tricky. Take
care that you don't get so caught up in the new project that you either
abandon the old one or rush the ending. You do not have to leap from
ending one project straight into writing the next one, but if you are
already thinking about your future as a writer, it will be far easier to
Start considering what you would like to write next. Make this
a general set of questions like what genre you want to work in
next time or what gender you want your main character to be.
Let your imagination play for a little while before you start
working on specifics.
Of course, writing The End is not the real end of the work on a novel.
This brings me to one more problem that some writers have when they
realize they are close to the end of the story.
Problem 3: Fear of the next steps
There are some writers who avoid finishing a project -- or delay it as
long as they can -- because they fear what they have to do after they
finish the first draft. Words like editing, rewrites, synopsis,
query and submission send them into cold chills. They'll do
practically anything to avoid facing the idea that they may have to
rework their hard fought prose. And worse is the entire idea that if
they submit something, they might be rejected.
What to do:
First, and hardest, is that you may have to adjust how you look at the
work. Editing is an important tool for authors. Editing and
rewrites are gifts that mean an author wastes no effort, even if it
doesn't turn out right the first time through. Most successful authors
know this and welcome the chance to rework material to make it closer to
what they imagined. Even if the author doesn't intend to submit the
story, and want only to share with friends, making it the best it can be
should always be a primary goal.
If an author looks at editing as something outside the realm of actual
writing, it is going to cause a problem. Once editing is melded into
the overall idea of writing, it becomes more of the flow, rather than
Assignment (Part 1):
1. Put the work aside for a while. It can feel 'new' then when you
get back to it, which can help make the work more exciting. It also
helps clear the story out of your head, and you are more likely to
see the mistakes.
2. Set a goal of X number of pages a day to edit. I do five.
3. Work on something else while you edit. Some people find this
difficult, partitioning their imagination between more than one
manuscript, so it doesn't work for everyone.
The fear of synopsis writing and of submitting work is a different
problem. It will stop many authors from ever trying. They cannot
accept that submission (and rejection) is a part of the writing world.
They believe a rejection is a blow against them and their writing
ability, when actually all it means is that story was not right for the
market. Perfectly good stories sometimes do not find good markets
because they are just a little outside the norm. Marketing people don't
know how to deal with them, and that can be a killing blow.
What to do:
Accept that submission and
is part of the writing world -- which is not easy, of course, but
necessary for anyone looking for publication. Once it happens,
keep trying. That's the only real advice a person can give in this
case. Keep trying with the story in hand, and keep writing new stories,
because authors don't make it on just one manuscript.
Creating a synopsis is, much like writing a story, an acquired art.
Publishers often realize that this is not an easy task for an author,
and they will give a little leeway in the presentation. There are places
(like Forward Motion) that can help you hone your synopsis and query
writing skill, though.
One of the best ways to avoid the overwhelming fear of writing the query
letter and synopsis is to work on them before you are done with
the novel. You can always adjust the material to fit the finished
Assignment (Part 2):
Look at whatever novel you are working on now and start thinking
about the synopsis. Create one or two paragraphs per chapter to
explain what happened in that section of the story. Study how a
synopsis is written. Practice query letters as well. They are
easier to write. Once you have the feel for these pieces, they
will be far less daunting..
Always remember that you
need not fear finishing a story. Like every other important moment in
life, it is both the closing of one door and the opening of another.
Once you are finished with a novel, you are free to move on to the next
great novel adventure. Take advantage of it, and enjoy the
journey... all the way to The End.