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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The End

So, you have this beautiful book. The symbolism is thick as gun smoke. The characters are so fully developed they're liable to pop off the page and wash your dishes.

In a word your book is perfect.

Except all your beta-readers say the ending is blah!

"Blah?" I hear you wail. "How can it be blah? It perfectly ties up every loose strand. There is no plot twist unaccounted for. Everyone is Happily Ever After. Why are the beat-readers upset?"

Well, dear author, there is a difference between a GOOD ending and THE BEST ending.

Good endings leave you feeling a little blah. It's a little flat. And the reader walks away not really caring if you ever write anything again.

The best endings leave the reader begging for more (insert age appropriate analogy here). The best endings make people threaten to tape you to your computer until you write another book. The best endings are never flat, lifeless, or dull. And, sometimes, they don't even wrap up every loose thread.

Finding the right ending is about choices.

Editing the the Bitter END

Step 1:
Close your manuscript and start fresh. The ending is a culmination of everything your book promises, but to find the end point you need to write towards you need space.

Step 2:
Write down what you think the ending is. This is your base line, logical, simple, easy ending. And it's probably the one you, the beta-readers, and the editor will all call FLAT.

That doesn't matter. Just write down a one paragraph sketch of what you think would work.

Step 3: List each of the principle characters (anyone who appears in at least half the chapters) and then list all the possibly endings for them.

Possible Endings for Edward(my antagonist):
- Edward kills Kit (the protagonist)
- Kit kills Edward
- Winifred (E's wife) kills Edward in jealous rage
- Edward kills Winifred and marries someone else
- T-E kills Edward to take over the family business
- I get sick of Edward and push him off a building
- Edward survives to be a future threat

There are a lot of things I could do to or with Edward. Not all of them are practical. Although pushing him off a building sounds fun...

Step 4: Looking at the lists for the individuals who comprise the main cast of your work, make a list of alternative endings:

* The HEA Ending (it will probably sound like what you already have).

* The Worst Possible Ending (think Hamlet)

* The Dirty Ending (someone walks in with a horrible secret that changes everything that's happened in the book.... "Luke, I am your mother!")

* The Scape Goat Endings (take MC, kill MC, repeat until the ending works and everyone cheers)

* The Aliens Are Landing! Ending (come in from left-field and throw a basketball at the batter... see what happens)

Step 5:
Reopen your WIP. Read through the early chapters, editing as you go, and letting the possible endings percolate at the back of your brain. If you're like me and need to talk things over to think, sit down with one of your primary readers or a trusted beta-reader and discuss the possibilities.

Step 6:
Go write the ending.

Your BEST ending will probably take a few twists from each of the wildly different possible endings. I'm still working on the ending for my current WIP.

For another book I have outlined the ending is a mad twist on the impossible wherein the antagonist turns out to be the Good Guy all along. It's fun. I'm excited to write it. And I hope it isn't flat in the long run. We shall see.

Good luck with your writing!


  1. I rather like uncomfortable endings where it's not--quite--HEA. Unless I'm reading a romance or a fairy tale, true HEAs give me a rash!

    Great post. I'll have to ponder on this one.

  2. Hehe, fabulous post, Li. Great summation of the process.

  3. :) I'm veering to not 100% HEA. Espeically with Imperial Intrigue.

    Termion - well I know there's a 2nd book and not all loose ends will be tied up! But enough that its a book to stand on its on spine.

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  5. And yes, my ending for Monarch sucks. My ending for Breakaway ROCKS. I'm so proud of that baby. It has gone through similar steps you've described here. :)

  6. There is a reason I hate endings... :P

  7. Great post. Lots of points to ponder here. Brainstorming how to put a wicked twist on the ending is half the fun, I think.

    I like to describe my endings as HEA with a guilty conscience. Or sometimes, HUS (Happy Until Sequel).