Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The Ending
If you've ever had writer's block or gotten frustrated with your work, be it a short story or a long novel, you've probably had the feeling of wanting to hurry up and get to the ending. My friends will tell you that when I get frustrated I say "Rocks fall, everyone dies, the end!" I've never actually ended a book with that, but the temptation to do so can be very strong. Usually when faced with this kind of block (piece here), I have to use all the tricks of my trade to resist the urge and not actually kill everyone and end the book there.
That does raise a good point though... when does it end? When does the end happen? What happens at the end? And when do you know you've given it a good enough ending? I can't speak for every writer, but as a detailed planner (piece here) who has organised notes down to which colour note cards I use for which information, I usually have some idea *how* I want the book to end and when. I have, however, had some issues with when it's time to stop typing and say that it's the best you can do and that's that. I can only think of two times when I've been really sure that the ending I've given is the best one I could have done. One was with BLACKOUT and the other was with my ninth book, which has yet to be released. Both of those times, I wrote in a fury and then finally, it came to a natural close. I read back through them and thought, "hey, this is good... this is really good... this is the right ending!" The other books I've written? Well, the ending for those didn't always come as easily as I would have liked.
I always have a plan, I always generally stick to the plan, and sometimes I even have some idea of what I want the last line to say. But, life doesn't always work that way and even though these characters are of my own creation, it's not always as simple as writing the ending the way I planned to. As most writers will tell you, characters sometimes take the story a different way than was first planned. Inspiration strikes at opportune moments (piece here) and you may find yourself suddenly knee deep in something that you never planned for. So, putting that aside, let's get back to the questions.
When does it end? When does the end happen? Well, usually for me, there is a point where I can start wrapping things up and bring the story to a close. If it's a stand alone book, like BLACKOUT or LYNNE & HOPE, I know when to start switching off the lights, and closing the curtains because once the main plot has been solved (usually crime for me) I can bring everything together and leave it there. I do like to have some semblance of life after the "big" event, whatever that event may be. However, when you're writing a series like the DYING THOUGHTS series, then you have to decide if you want it to lead into the next story, or if you want to finish it completely. I usually go for a mixture of both. FIRST TOUCH leaves it open for SECOND SIGHT, the fourth book leads into the fifth and so on. So, for me, the rule of thumb is usually that when things have been solved, the criminal caught and everyone is safe and happy to carry on with their lives, *that's* when it ends.
What happens at the end? This is really something that only the writer can answer. For me, like I said, I want to pull all those strings together, tie them in a neat enough bow (a little messy is okay) and go from there. In BLACKOUT, I had a chapter that showed where the characters were a few weeks after the big reveal. In LYNNE & HOPE, I had a chapters that did something similar and in some of the DYING THOUGHTS books, I usually just have Tara move onto the next case, whether I'm setting it up for the next book or not. The difference between a stand alone and a series (or even a book with just one sequel) is that you need to make sure the reader is going to be satisfied with the way you have left it. You want them to be happy when they say goodbye to the characters and not wonder if they were ever going to be okay again. With a series, you want them to be interested enough to want to carry on reading. The ending is your way of getting the reader to close the book. It doesn't have to be happily ever after, some of the best books don't have a "happy" ending, but it does need to be somewhat final. Your mileage may, of course, vary.
So, onto the final question, when do you know you've given it a good enough ending? Now, I don't know about other writer's, we are a weird and wonderful bunch and we all have our own ways of doing things. When I finish a book, I close the document and then I go away and work on something else or something new. I don't go back to it until it's time to start the after process. At which time, I am finally able to see if I have given it the ending it deserves. Some writers don't wait, straight away they start the after process and the long, and difficult journey of editing. I find that if I do that, I'm still too caught up in the universe to be objective. If I can't be objective, then I can't edit and take out what does not belong whilst adding what does. So, I don't find out whether the end is good enough until I've been away from that plot for a while. Even now, whilst working on the sixth DYING THOUGHTS book, I know that I have to rewrite some of the ending for the fourth because of the way things have turned out in the books since. That kind of objectivity wouldn't have happened if I had dived right in. Again, your mileage may vary and I can only say that for me, it doesn't work like that. I am sure there are other writers who find that jumping back in is the best way for them to work. We are all wonderfully different and unique in the way we work.
Now, you've come to the end and it's time to close the book, type the last sentence and say goodbye to the characters that have been in your daily life for how ever long it's been. It's hard to do that, but the ending is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of writing. You've come along the arduous path of starting, writing, living and now you're at the part where you can give your characters what they need to carry on their lives outside of the pages of this particular story. Well done, and remember, that unless they are living in a mountain cave, rocks never fall and kill everyone.
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