Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Endings—It’s More Than “The End”

For me, one of the most difficult things to write is the ending. There are so many endings within a story—there’s the ending of a scene; the ending of the chapter and the ending of the book itself. Figuring out how to strike just the right tone and satisfy everyone can be tricky.

In my head, I often think in scenes, which is great as far as adding to what the characters are going to do or say. It’s also great to be able to sit down and bang out a scene, rather than a few sentences at a time. But sometimes it can be difficult when it comes to moving the reader along. A beach scene will pop into my head, so I’ll scurry off to my computer and get it down. I can get my characters to the beach, show what they’re doing there, reveal what they’re thinking. Are they at the beach to swim or is this a chance to show their attraction to each other—come on, there are probably women in bikinis, attraction shouldn’t be difficult! Is it a sweet family scene, with kids building sandcastles or a couple having sex behind the dunes? Regardless of what’s going on, I can see it in my head, so I can basically get it on paper. My problem, however, becomes how to end the scene. Quite often, the ending that I have in my head is not the kind of hook that I’m told we need to have to keep the reader interested. Sometimes, a pacing requirement means that I can’t end every scene with an “OMG” kind of ending—there has to be time to breathe. Other times, there has to be a smooth transition between scenes, so that the story doesn’t look like a bunch of taped together moments.

I run into the same difficulty when it comes to chapter endings. My critique partner always marks up my manuscript if I end a chapter with a character going to sleep. Okay, I get her point, sleeping is not that interesting. It probably doesn’t move the story along (although it’s quite useful to show time passing) and it might make the reader decide to go to sleep herself, rather than turning the page to continue reading. But sometimes, the chapter just has to end and finding an interesting way of doing that can be tough.

When it comes to ending the story, my idea of where to end the story is often different from my characters’ ideas. I’m a pantser, so I write as the ideas hit me. I start to put my ideas to paper, and then my characters laugh at me and point me in the direction that they want to go. Quite often, the ending I planned at the beginning of the story is not the ending that I end up with. Sometimes, it’s even better than what I expected. Other times, it shows me that I’m not there yet, and I have to keep writing until I write an ending that satisfies both my characters and me (and hopefully, my readers!).


  1. So interesting, Jen. The one thing I was good at at the outset was the chapter ending hook.
    I 'see' the story like a movie, which moves faster than a novel.
    We can fix what we need to, once we know what it is, though. Great post!

  2. I think part of my problem is how I look at it. To me, if the chapter is interesting, I'm going to want to continue reading regardless of whether or not there's a hook at the end. But that could be because of the type of reader I am and sometimes that doesn't translate well into the writer that I'm supposed to be.

  3. Very interesting post, Jen. Knowing when to end a scene is tricky at times, especially when you need to find some kind of transition to the next scene so that it moves smmothly and doesn't just jump from one scene to the next.
    Chapter endings are easier for me, somehow. When I start writing a chapter, I usually know how it's going to end, and I do tend to end my chapters with a 'hook' of some kind.
    While I'm writing the novel, I get different ideas about when, how and where it's going to end, but I can change my mind several times about all those details, depending on where the characters take me on their merry dance!

  4. Paula, I find it interesting that you visualize your chapters. For me it's more of a "okay, this seems like a good place to end the chapter" kind of thing, which is probably why I have a hard time with the endings. Nice to see that you also have characters who take you places--my non-writer friends just think I'm crazy. :)

  5. Great food for thought, here, Jennifer. I always try to get somewhat of an exciting hook at the end of each chapter. I've even been known from time to time to cut in the middle of a scene, which hopefully makes the reader want to keep turning pages to find out what happens next!

  6. I've done that too. At the time I thought it felt contrived, but I think that might have been because it was a new thing for me and not something I did automatically. Looking back, I think it worked. But I don't think it's something I'd personally want to do too often because I think it might be annoying if it's overused (just my opinion, not knocking anyone).