Happy Endings

When writing a novel or a story, I struggle with endings. I have ideas that start well and build to solid middles, but deciding how to end a novel is always the most difficult part of the process for me. Currently, the struggle is with my work in progress. It’s not that I don’t know how I want the story to end, it’s just putting one word after another down on the page to get there in the right way to evoke the right response.

Usually when I struggle like this, it helps to pick up a writing book and review the basics. To that end, I picked up an old Writer’s Digest book called, Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress. The title of her section on endings is this: Satisfying Endings, Delivering on the Promise. Right away I’m inspired, I do believe that a story, a novel, is a promise. A promise that the reader will be entertained, moved, inspired, etc. all the way to the last word.

So, I go back to the document and ponder the ending with this thought in mind, being true to the story and the readers with every bit of the last few thousand words. My characters are perched on the cliff, ready for the climax and the final struggle, the final knock down drag out.

From Nancy Kress:

  1. The climax must satisfy the view of life implied in your story
  2. The climax must deliver emotion
  3. The climax must deliver an appropriate level of emotion
  4. The climax must be logical to your plot and story

Since I was a police officer, I like rules. I look and these four rules and even though they are basic, and I’ve read them many times before, they help right now and I’m jazzed. (Many of you are probably saying there are no hard and fast rules, or rules were made to be broken, but when I in a tough spot, rules work for me) I can dive into the last few pages of my novel, thinking about these statements or rules and hopefully create a compelling, realistic ending. I’ll tie up what needs to be tied up, resolve what needs to be resolved, and most importantly leave the reader glad he/she read the book.

Does anyone else out there have ideas about what to do when they struggle in the process?

5 Responses to Happy Endings

  1. Collette Scott November 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Oh Janice, I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my stories that I don’t want them to end and begin planning a sequel. I have learned to set the first draft of a book aside for a couple of months before going back and editing it. That’s usually when I re-write and polish my endings :).

  2. Jenny Milchman November 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    I read writing books all the way through a first draft for the exact same reason, Janice! I love Nancy Kress.

    One really good tip I got about endings was actually in Les Edgarton’s HOOKED, which is, ironically, all about beginnings. He says that if the seed of the ending is planted in the beginning few pages of a novel the book will have a deeply satisfying feel. This can happen in any number of ways, but I’ve been examining my work for it ever since reading that advice…

    • Janice Cantore November 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

      Thanks! I’ve seen that book, I’ll have to check it out.

  3. Brooke November 17, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    Hey Janice – I’m surprised to hear you say that endings are a struggle for you. I just finished reading an ARC of “Accused” and thought the end was one of the best in suspense fiction that I’ve read in a while. Wrapped up well – not too rush, not trite, but realistic and at a good pace. And … an amazing job at tying up the loose ends of “Accused” while obviously setting the stage for the next book in the series. So … if you struggled with the ending of that one, you did a great job working it out!

    • Janice Cantore November 17, 2011 at 9:15 am #

      Thank you very much for the kind words and encouragement.

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