Wednesday, February 29, 2012

5 Steps to Write an Ending

These things I'm about to list may or may not work for you, but I thought it would be fun to give a list of what exactly works for me as an author when I'm about to finish a book. When I talk about the "ending of a book", I mean the last 1/4 of the book.

DO NOT RACE
One thing that is most detrimental to my writing is racing to the end. If things are blurring by at a crazy pace, I'm going to miss things. All those plot lines to tie up - I'm going to miss them completely if I'm not paying attention, and they will not be easy to bring back in with revisions. More than likely, I'd have to completely rewrite the last 1/4 of the book if I rush through it.

READ THE BOOK W/ NO "PENCIL"
When I reach the last 1/4 of the book, I usually load the entire manuscript onto my Kindle and spend the next few days reading it from start to finish (well, what is finished so far). I try to do this in as little time as possible, even one sitting if possible. I like to do this because as I do so, I get a good feel for the book as a whole without making any changes at all, without even making notes. I just want to see it from a distance, if that makes sense.

READ THE BOOK W/ A "PENCIL"
Once I have the entire book in my head, I go back and read it again, this time with my computer in front of me as I make notes about typos, errors, plot holes, inconsistencies, places that need filling out/cutting down, etc. I also make a very, very important list called the THREADS TO TIE-UP LIST. (I know that title is brilliantly creative...*cough*).

WALK AWAY
At this point, the book is pretty close to me. I've read through it twice in a very short space of time, and I need a break from the dang thing. So I walk away for a week to several weeks depending on what I think I need. I have to let things simmer.

Now, you may be asking how I know when I've reached the last 1/4 of the book. I know because I outline. But! Let me make it clear that my outline is a lame little two pages of loose summary-type notes about main plot points, character attributes, and ideas of scene placement. It is by no means a detailed outline. I have to have freedom, so to speak, but I also have to know where the heck the book is going and where I'm at in writing it.

WRITE
So the last thing I do is sit down and write that last 1/4. It seems like by the time I've reached this point, I'm kind of dying. In fact, I'm usually dead and the ending is the most difficult part of the book for me to write. I think this is why I have such a specific set of rules of what I do to get there. I've found over and over that this routine helps prepare me for what I feel is the most important part of any book. If an ending doesn't satisfy the reader, the rest of it can simply fall apart. So I place a lot of weight on the ending. I want it to be just right.

So how do you write your endings? Do you rush to the end and then fix stuff later? Or do you have a more methodical approach? I'm interested to know!

22 comments:

  1. Great post! My biggest problem is that I see the ending in my head usually before I even write the beginning. Then I have to fill in all that white space.

    I hear you on the reading twice through with and w/o a pencil. I also like to do it uninterupted (which is a catch-as-catch-can time thing) however, I tend to walk away between readings. I really think the breathing rooms helps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anne, yes, sometimes I'll take a break between those two readings, as well, but that's often because I just have to wait for that uninterrupted huge chunk of time. Sadly, it usually happens at about 2 in the morning, and my brain has turned to mush. If only I could go sit in a hotel for a week... :)

      I also see the ending in my head before I even write the beginning. The end is usually my first idea for the story, so I'm always anxious to get to that last scene, which means I'm anxious the whole time I'm writing the book. This explains why I'm a constant mess, hah! Do you feel really anxious the whole time? Any way around that?

      Delete
    2. I'm not anxious until I get to the 1/4 mark at the end. That's when I really start to wonder if I can pull off the ending I started with. I don't generally work with any kind of outline, but if I can't see the ending coming together, that's when I'll sit down and do a synopsis type thing.

      And for the love a quiet hotel room! No laundry, no dishes, no children or men grubbing about food. *sigh*

      Delete
    3. Oh, gosh, tell me about it! I'm dying to get to a point in my life where I can do that. Not sure if I'll ever reach it. :)

      Yeah, I'm most anxious at the 1/4 mark, it seems.

      Delete
  2. I think I might try these out as I am also usually quite dead by the time I drag my sorry butt over the finish line.

    I usually don't pay that much attention, to be honest. I "simply" finish the book, then walk away for a month or more before returning to the story and re-reading the thing entirely (like you), making edits on my second reading.

    I have one series that has been torn up twice and completely reworked. I think my methods are creating a lot more work for me after the fact!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. S.M., I have to stress that it has taken me several books to get to this routine. I've wasted a lot of time writing rushed endings and then figuring out what had to be done to fix them because they were not working. So maybe try your own version of this and see if it works! Another thing I'll often do, that I didn't list here, is write a more detailed outline for the ending. I haven't done this for every book, though, so I didn't include it. It depends on how complex I feel the ending is and how much focus I need to get to the right place.

      I think being a little more methodical in writing is great for a lot of writers. Let me know if this works out for you!

      Delete
  3. I've usually got the beginning point and know how I want it to end (but that is subject to change and the whims of my characters), but I labor over the middle. I'm such a slow writer. I wish I could just do a quick first draft but I get too bogged down with details. When I stall with one scene (which is where I'm at with my WIP), I at least try to write the important dialogue. Once I have that done, I can move to the next without having to rewrite the thrust of it.

    As for the ending, I wish I could speed my way there...nope...it's just a slow plodding process, and even then, I rewrite it ten times...and all the while, the suspense in killing me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bridget, I used to feel like it was just plodding along for me until I sat down and realized that with my past few books, I'm actually doing the same steps over and over with each book, and that it's working! At that point I felt a lot better because I can see which step I am on and how much farther I have to go. Maybe you have a system you're not seeing yet?

      Delete
    2. The plodding is definitely a pattern/system for me. Truth be told, I really don't enjoy the 'first draft' as much as I do revising, so I can't resist the urge to go back over the last scene and edit. Of course, as the plot develops, I have to go back and seed in the foreshadowing and close the plot gaps, but that's what I really enjoy.

      ...soooo...I just gotta push through it and be happy for those spontaneous moments of inspiration that make the first draft move faster...

      Delete
  4. My easiest first drafts are when I see the ending first and write to get to it (even if it changes). My current WIP, where I had my concept, but no ending, is plodding along (and has already had a huge rewrite - still with no ending). Thanks for the tips, I will definitely try them!
    erica

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Erica, ack! That must be frustrating. :( Is there any way you can figure out the ending?

      Delete
  5. I also outline. I have a one-page outline that describes the primary arcs of the whole book, and then I write a one-page outline of each chapter just before I sit down to write it. I usually know the ending before I start the book, though in the case of my work-in-progress, I wrote the first couple of chapters before I knew the end. But I have a final scene in mind, even a few lines of dialogue that will close the book, I think, unless something better comes along when I get there.

    I just keep writing from the first page to the last. I don't stop and read any of it; I trust my overall plan even though I always--at the midpoint of the book and at the beginning of the last chapter--become convinced for a few days that this book is the stupidest thing ever written and I have to work past that feeling. Anyway, I just write and write and then I come to the end and usually I don't know the real last line until I've just written it. Usually I'm surprised that I'm done.

    One book's ending came to me about three months before I was writing the last chapter; it just popped into my head and I wrote it down and kept it in the back of my notebook. Another book's ending came to me while I was showering after a five-mile run. The detective novel's ending came about as I was writing the last chapter; I wasn't really sure what I was going to do, not at a detailed level, and then I ended up rewriting it anyway, which is the only time I've ever done that.

    There's no way I could stop at the 3/4 finished point and reread the book. That's just weird, man.

    Also, I just sent Emmaline a signed contract. So I have a book deal. Think of that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scott! This is how you're going to announce it?

      Delete
    2. Scott, we definitely all have our different methods! It thing one of the reasons I have to re-read things is because of my terrible goldfish memory. I just have the hardest time keeping everything straight, even if I write it in lists. There are so many details and complexities in a novel that I have to solidify it all in my head with the actual text before I can move forward on certain things.

      And YAY about the contract!!! You may want to do a post if you want more people to know about it. Just saying. :)

      Delete
    3. Ha! Scott! Congratulations! :)

      Delete
  6. Nice post, Michelle! For me, the most important thing is putting on the breaks. That's so critical to me minimizing my stupid ending quotient. When I'm have about 20% of my story left to write, that's often when I outline for the first time and also often when I read what I've written before. I can't do it without a pencil, though. I always have to be able to mark it up, otherwise I'll get paranoid that I left something in that I don't like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Davin, yeah, putting on the breaks is a great way to put it. I think that's what this method has taught me - to slow down and not rush to the end. It's so tempting to do that!

      Delete
  7. In first draft, I try to write all the way to the end. Even though I outline, new things will come out as I compose the final chapters. Once I hit a first draft finish line, I go back and read from beginning to end, making detailed notes. Then I revise, and read through again, this time inviting critique partners into the process. Then I revise several more times. Sometimes the ending changes a little, sometimes a lot, and rarely does it remain unchanged.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rick, that sounds like a great method! New things always come out for me, too, after I outline. The actual writing has a way of revealing things.

      Delete
  8. My endings are almost always where I start a novel, then I fill in and write towards that ending. I do get in a bind when I don't start that way though. I like the idea of reading on the kindle so I can't edit and revise as I read. So tempting otherwise :)

    .....dhole

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Donna, yep! That's why I load up my manuscripts onto the Kindle. Much less tempting to change stuff.

      Delete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.