Thursday, October 1, 2009

The. End.

I'm very close to finishing the complete rewrite of my novel, Monarch. This means I'm halfway through the last chapter, which means I'm trying to write as slowly as possible. I want to wrap everything up. I want to create an ending that satisfies both me and my readers.

I recently met with a blogging friend to discuss her novel. She looked at me with a dejected expression, her shoulders falling. Not a lot of people "got" her book, she said. Not a lot of people understood why it ends the way it does. We later figured out why, and I'm convinced that if her book sells, she'll have a lot of controversy over that ending even though it's a perfectly valid and good ending. I haven't read the book, but I know I'll love it if I do.

The truth is, we all like different endings. You can't write an end that will please every single reader. You know that saying you can't please 100% of the people 100% of the time? So true.

Either way, I'm interested to see what most of our readers like! So take a minute to vote on the few questions below. Yes, there is chocolate.

What makes a story ending satisfactory for you?

If you thoroughly enjoyed a book, but the ending is unhappy, are you likely to read it again?

Do you have to eat chocolate to finish a novel?

Are you planning on entering our Genre Wars Contest? Mark "yes" if you have already

Question For The Day:
Since I didn't ask enough questions already, let me know where you're at with the end of your current novel. Have you planned it? Are you writing it? Do you just wait until you get there to figure it all out?

~MDA (aka Glam)


  1. A survey! Nay, three! Hurrah!

    How people come up with endings continues to fascinate me. I think I've said it too many times already, but I can't even start to write something until I know the ending. For my last book, SO HONEST A MAN, I wrote out the ending when I was maybe 25% through the first draft, and hardly a word of it has changed since the first draft. For my work-in-progress, I have a pretty good idea of the ending already, meaning that I know how all the plotlines resolve themselves, but I don't have the final image yet. I'd like to know the last scene before too long.

    Happy endings aren't necessary for me to enjoy a book. In fact, most of the books I read don't end happily so much as they end on an indeterminate note, just like real life. I recently read a best-selling literary novel which had a sad ending, then an indeterminate ending tacked on after that, and then another ending--a happy one--tacked on after that. I didn't think it was well done, and it bugged me. It was like the author was afraid to end the story where he originally intended and kept writing, weakening the impact of the whole book.

  2. I'm like Scott.

    For the most part my endings are planned out in advance -- I know how the current WIP ends and what happens immediately prior to it ending that way, but I don't know the rest of the steps to get there.

    With my as-yet unfinished trilogy, I know the ultimate end of the storyline but not where each book will end. Book I (written) ended with the hero and heroine walking under a crystal arch, which I didn't intend to use as an ending. But it was a freaking cool image so I stuck with it.

    I usually get a flash of several endings for a current project at once and then pick out of the proverbial hat for which one works best for the characters. If I haven't already set the thing in stone by that point.

  3. I'm still in the first draft of my current novel. I know a lot about what will happen EXCEPT the ending. The characters will drive me through the ending. They always do. I didn't think my last one would end as it did, so I'm handling this one the same way. I know what I wanted to have happen will not. Which is why I'm letting the story take shape as I type.

    I love chocolate and coffee. And I gained WEIGHT while writing Seventy Two Hours. *she stamps her foot* So I'm trying not to do that again. :)

  4. I tend to go back and forth. Sometimes I know the endings and sometimes I try very hard not to know the ending until I get close to it. WIth my current book, I know what happens at the end, my main character kills someone, but I'm not sure yet how much of the murder I will discuss. Possible none of it. But, the idea of endings is something that always interests me. I love a brilliant ending when I come across one, and I can never figure out how writers do it.

  5. Davin --

    Half the time I don't think even the authors know how they did it.

    Of course, I'm also of the belief that people who write bestsellers don't think about them as bestsellers. They just write and, if it happens to sell a buttload of copies, then so be it. That is just a theory though (and probably horribly wrong).

  6. I pretty much know the ending, but I don't know what the journey will be to get the characters there. Like knowing I need to drive somewhere and there are three or four different routes I could take. I'll end up in the same place, but have to choose between the main highway, the hilly road, the dirt road or the one that passes the pretty farm.

    In my finished manuscript, I got to a place where I was near the end and stuck because I was considering changing it from my original idea. I ended up going with my first choice, but I was right there with the character as she faced her own indecision.

  7. MattDel: I think that a lot of bestselling writers write to a formula they know will work, or that's worked well for them in the past.

    I think that for literary fiction, the ending is sometimes not really that important. What I mean by that is, when I think back to the books I love the most, I think about characters or images, and sometimes I don't remember at all how the books ended. While I want an ending that makes sense within the context of the particular book I'm reading, literary fiction, at least, isn't really about how the plot functions. That said, I still like to know my ending well in advance, but my endings are all about where characters end up emotionally and thematically more than about where they end up materially. If you know what I mean.

  8. Has anyone read Jhumpa Lahiri's latest collection, Unaccustomed Earth? The end of her last story intrigues me. I thought, "How can she get away with this," and then I found an interview where she discussed it, and I admired her even more than I did already for what she tried to do.

  9. Davin: The Lahiri collection is next on my list of things to read, but maybe tonight I'll pick it up and read the last story (if it's short enough for one sitting) and then I can talk smart with you about it and we can dazzle each other with our insight and wit.

  10. Yes, Nabokov Shmabokov, start reading UE. Actually, the last three (?) stories are linked, so you probably don't want to just read the last one first. But, let me know when you get to it.

    Nobody's Business is my favorite in that collection.

  11. Current WIP. I stopped just short of the ending chapters, because I realized I needed major revision on the big picture. I saw no sense in writing an end that would definitely change with the things I am implementing in rewrite.

  12. For my first novel, I wrote the ending in the first draft and did not change it much. It's the scene just before the ending that had to be tweaked and modified many times.

    Short stories are where I have problem knowing how to end. I think that's because I usually start with a scene or a feeling and write to explore. I have at least four stories that need endings. Usually the realization comes to me about the story's essence, typically when I am in the shower and hovering between being awake and asleep, and then I know how to end. It usually means I have to go back to re-order things or re-prioritize elements in the story.

    Middle of the last chapter. That must feel good!

  13. Most times I have an idea of the ending . . . just not the absolute ending.

    On the one project pretty much read to query, I pretty much tied everthing up with a little pretty bow and put it under the Christmas tree.

    On the project that's about to enter revision phase (rough draft complete), not so much a neatly packaged ending. I've left a lot of things out their for reader interpretation . . . or perhaps a sequel at some point in my storied writing career.

    Personally, an ending has to make sense. There's a book I read a few years ago where the ending did not make sense at all. Lifetime turned the book into a movie, and redid the ending so that it made sense, and still left a few things up to the viewer's interpretation. If the ending totally makes your readers go 'wth????' and scratch their heads . . . well, perhaps a tweak here or there might help.

    Finally, about the book with a bad ending turned into a movie with a good ending . . . I wonder if that was done with the author's consent, and whether said author made that decision based on reader feedback about the book's ending. Hmmm . . .


  14. Scott B.: Wow, that would annoy me to death to have that many endings in a book. Just pick one already, you know?

    I like endings that are most like real life. I also really like endings that make me want to read the book again to figure more things out.

    I've never written an ending before I reached the ending, but I always plan it out and give it a lot of thought before I dive into it. Right now I'm still not exactly sure how Monarch will end even though I'm right there... just the little details, if that makes sense.

    Matt: I like that idea of the crystal arch! Sounds fascinating. I usually get a flash of several endings, as well, and then just go with wherever the story takes me.

    Robyn: I lost weight with my first book! I'm gaining weight with this one, but for different reasons.

    Davin: I'm similar - every work is different for me, especially with short stories. I think. Matt's right. Most of the time the authors don't know how they came up with that brilliance. These things just happen.

    Michelle: The journey is the best part, which is why endings don't bother me even if they're depressing and sad.

    Scott B.: I like your thoughts about literary fiction. Most of my endings focus solely on the emotional outcome instead of the material.

    Davin: I haven't read that collection, no, but I'd like to get my hands on it.

    Tricia: I've done that with every book I've written - stopped near the end and went back to review everything else. I don't need major revision this time around, but I had to review a lot of things in order to wrap it all up nicely.

    Yat-Yee: Yes, the middle of the last chapter feels very good. I just barely got out of the shower. I figured out how to end it exactly. I love the shower. It's my idea chamber. LOL.

    Scott: Good questions. I've seen movies end differently than the book, and it was better. That rarely happens, though. I've seen movies botch the endings so many times. I love leaving things up for reader interpretation. But you're right - it has to make sense.

    If an author sells movie rights, aren't they essentially handing over permission to change whatever the movie makers want? I'm not sure I could do that.

  15. I prefer happy endings because part of the reason I get caught up in novels is to see and feel a resolution that is satisfying and probably very little like real life. That said, a book that makes me think, that sticks with me for weeks to come, really works for me.

    I have to know the ending to my story before I begin writing it. I cannot plot out the rest of the conflicts or fully develop my characters until I know how the journey will end.

  16. Ah, nice little article, Glam!

    In response to the last question, I am currently finishing up my rough outline to my first-ever novel. Soon, there will be nothing left to do but actually write the darn thing!

    Like Scott and several others have said, I know my ending even before I have finished the first chapter. The way it works with me is that an idea will form in my head... that would be a person or a place or an idea, and from that, characteristics and images will form. From this sort of misty phantasm comes a beginning of a story and at some point an end-game will form opposed to it. (the same protagonist in a completely different light... good or bad... I'm a big fan of sad endings)It's the middle part that intrigues me... the beginning and the ending seem pretty straight forward; it's the indefinite and amorphic gray that is the actual BODY of the work that usually finds ways to miff me.

  17. I'm so glad you're almost finished. I found a yucky plot hole in mine (a big one) and have to fix it before I move on. No worries. I brainstormed with my local writers group last night and came up with some great ideas.

    Lynnette Labelle

  18. Forgot to add... if only for shameless self-promotion, I have a journal that I am keeping while writing my first novel over at ... that way you can always see how some nameless struggling author is day-by-day wrecking the very fabric of the american novel! In journal form!

  19. Cindy: I usually care more about the novel as a whole than whether it's happy or not, but I must admit happy endings are nice. They always make me smile.

    Ken: Thanks for your link! Journal form sounds fun and interesting! Good luck with writing your novel. That's, um, the hardest part, so good luck! We're all here to help cheer each other on.

    I agree about middles. They're ridiculously difficult.

    Lynnette: Ugh. Plot holes. I found too many in my old draft of Monarch, so that's one of the reasons I just started over and rewrote it. It was a tough decision.

  20. I find many endings (in both books and films) disappointing and poorly done because they don't follow the logic previously set up in the stories. Endings shouldn't be tacked on as "endings"; they should naturally flow from the contents that came before.

    I think the correct known-by-readers endings stories should have are forced by previous contents, but too many writers ignore those contents and write the endings they want to write, almost like they've combined two separate stories into one; that rarely works here.

    A story can go on beyond the actual text outside the reader's knowledge, but the text shouldn't just simply stop somewhere--anywhere--especially in a bad makes-no-sense spot. As long as an ending is the ending a story seemingly SHOULD have, I'm okay with it.

    With my own writing, I almost always know exactly where a story will wind up. Sometimes I know the endings before the beginnings.

  21. F.P.: Nice thoughts, thank you! I agree that many endings I've read felt too much like... endings. I like things to just flow, and I rarely like everything to wrap up nicely. It doesn't feel very real for me. Sometimes it works for me, but rarely.

    I have to work hard at making my endings NOT feel like endings. Oftentimes I'll write an ending and then cut off most of it and end somewhere earlier, if that makes sense. I did that with Monarch this time. I planned a whole ending that I'm not even going to write now. I'm stopping earlier, a more natural break.

  22. Well, I got into the bad habit of writing scenes out of order during my last book. Which, I'm embarrassed to admit, means that I wrote the ending before I finished the middle.

    I know. Bad Mariah!

  23. Sent off query letters on one; in research and planning stage of next novel. Procrastinating a lot by blogging, possibly because I'm on diet and am currently chocolate deprived.

  24. For my own works, I usually have a very good idea of how the story will end. I don't write the ending until I get there, though.

    I don't care if a story has a happy ending as long as it makes sense. Right now I'm re-reading THE ROAD, and that has a very sad ending. It does leave things open for me to ponder - what happens to the boy without Papa? Does the new man help him carry the fire?

    I hate multiple endings, especially when it's an ending, then a twist, and then (surprise!) that twist was not the real twist, here's another one, and then (finally) the REAL twist...

    I don't mind an unconventional ending as long as it doesn't cheat.

  25. Lady Glamis - I'm not sure about the movie rights thing, but I wonder if an author can stipulate that any changes need author's approval or something to that effect. Maybe the author gets a nifty title at the end credits. Hmmm . . . ; )

    Personally, like you, I'm not sure I could give up the rights and see my brilliance turned into something unrecognizable . . . which is often the case with books into movies. I'd like to think I'd stand firm and demand some creative control rather then just tossing my baby (book) to some filmaker who is going to totally rework the novel into a travesty!


  26. By current you mean the one that I've written and rewritten and rewritten and you get the idea.

    I knew the ending before the conclusion of the first draft and aside from fleshy additions, editing and tweaking, it has not changed substantively.

    If you meant the next novel, ummm, where did I put that plot line? Yeah, right beside the alluring box of chocolates.

  27. My current WiP is a murder mystery. I know "who-dunnit", but not how they get caught yet. I'm at the half-way point with my first draft.

    I enjoy books with less than happy endings, sure, but I still haven't re-read The Time-traveler's Wife, even though I kept saying I was going to. I guess I just can't stand the thought of all that angst knowing the ending while I'm rereading.

    Great post!

  28. The ending to my first book wrote itself. I had no idea where the story was heading until I happened on “the perfect ending.”(By the way, I don’t recommend that method.) I’m a third of the way through my second book and I know exactly how it will end. The feeling is totally different with this one. It takes more knowledge of one’s craft to complete, but it’s still fun. The idea is a good one and worth the work. I’m still tempted to send Davin a 2000 word description of my house! (Joke)

  29. About film rights: When you sell film rights to a director or producer or whomever, you sell them the right to make a derivative work based on your novel. They can use your title, your characters, your themes and plot etc. They are not bound to any of that, though. They can change whatever they want, which happens most of the time. About all of which, I'm fine. I hope films get made of every book I have published. It will drive book sales, and since the film isn't my creation and authors have no control over the script, I don't have to like it. Again, I'm fine with that because I only have to stand behind my own work, which is the book I've written.

  30. I can't deny it -- I like happy endings. I always have, and I'm pretty sure I always will. I can appreciate sad endings or bittersweet one, but my heart will always go to happy endings and sappy love songs.

  31. I love endings that are open to interpretation. The only times I dread unhappy endings is when it feels forced or unneccessarily unhappy or unsatisying. For me, when White Teeth by Zadie Smith ended, I left feeling unsatified. Enjoy the writing very much tho.

    Im currently still around 75 percent done with the first draft of my current WIP, but like Scott, I thought out the ending when I was just starting the book. I wonder if it will change by the time I get there.

  32. Mariah: I don't see why you think it's bad to write out of order! If it works, it works! Own it.

    Ann: Diets are bad, bad, bad for writing. Hehe. I hope you can get some chocolate in just once or twice!

    Rick: I understand what you're saying about cheating with an end. It needs to make sense, and it needs to work for the novel. Like F.P. says, I think writers oftentimes make the mistake of tacking on an ending and it feels too separate from the rest of the book.

    Scott: After reading Scott B's answer below about movie rights, I can see that getting a movie made out of my work might not be a totally horrendous thing. It would definitely get me more publicity for my book, which wouldn't be changing!

    Victoria: Hehe, your comment made me laugh. My ending has changed a lot with this rewrite, but in some respects it's still the same. It's a different experience for every book.

    Tere: I am blessed with a bad memory. There are some books I've read several times that I honestly can't remember the end! I love rereading things, even I know the ending is not happy. Good luck with your mystery! My next project is a mystery. They're hard!

    Charlie: Davin would like that, I think. Hehe. Cool that your ending wrote itself! I wish my writing did that!

    Scott B.: I can see where you're coming from. It would hurt me to see my characters changed, though, because I know everyone who watched the movie wouldn't go and read my book to see how it "really is."

    Dominique: Aww, you're an HEA girl. Love it!

    Crimey: I've had endings change on me by complete surprise! Sometimes we just have to follow where the story goes or we'll leave our readers unsatisfied, as you say. Good luck! 75% is awesome!

  33. Charlie, if it was a good description, I bet I'd love it!

  34. Oh, it's planned, baby. The end is more important than the beginning!

    Fun polls, btw!

  35. Whether I like it or not, it kind of has to be the "right" ending for a book. When an ending doesn't ring true, you can really tell.


  36. Story --

    When anything doesn't ring true, based on previously set logic in the story, you as the reader can tell. This is why crit groups are so important -- they pick this stuff up.

    scott g.f. --

    There's a famous author, who's name I forget, that thought he'd figured out the formula for successful westerns. He tried it and failed. So I don't know if formulas actually work in terms of writing. On the other hand, it depends on what kind of formula you're talking about.

    My MCs are always very bright, if not always highly educated, because it's extremely difficult for me to write them any other way. They also tend toward having a decent-sized vocabulary.

    Glam --

    I know I'm surprised as hell when I bash a scene out of the park (to use my all-purpose baseball analogy), so I can't imagine that someone like Stephen King or Jhumpa Lahiri are any less surprised when they come up with literary gold. Again, I could be wrong.

  37. I've already written it once. I still like the last chapter that I have, but I'm not sure I like the ones leading up to it. I still haven't gotten to those in my rewrites. Congrats on being so close. I can't wait to see it.

  38. L.T. Glad you enjoyed the polls! Do you think the end is more important than the beginning? That would make an interesting post. :)

    Shelley I agree that you can feel it when it doesn't ring true. It's frustrating when that's in MY book and I don't know how to fix it.

    Matt: I don't think you're wrong. I think that's why many of us write - the discoveries we make, the surprises, the constant growing we do with our talent and craft. It's a magical experience!

    Lois: Well, I just finished it about 30 minutes ago! I never thought this would happen. Rewrites are harder than a first draft, in my opinion, even the end.

  39. I'm done with my book, yay! And I planned out the ending, but it's still needing work. I think I've rewritten it 5 times now. Yikes. So I'll probably rewrite it one more time. :D

  40. B.J. Did you finish it tonight???? I finished Monarch tonight, too! We really need to get together for lunch, m'dear. :)

  41. I've stopped work on the novel as it needs some character rethinks and I am doing short story/review work.

    Glad I did stop the novel as I've had a 'Eureka' moment about the evil guy whilst reading 'Mort'.

  42. Martin: I love those eureka moments! Good luck with your short work. :)

  43. Great post. I'm looking forward to reading the new Monarch, if I'm allowed :)

    As to my ending written it, changed it, changed it again and again. Back more or less to the original in a different order. I will finish one day :)


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