Story endings

I was going to continue my reading list, and write about endings a few posts from now, however I’ve just finished the first read-through of my novel’s draft. Bleh. Endings. Lots of work to do now.

Endings seem like a tricky thing. Some writers can write brilliant endings, others not so much. Right now I know where the story needs to go, and it does tie up okay, all the threads are brought together and resolved. At the moment it does seem that I will need to do much work on those last couple of pages as I will on the whole rest of the whole book. Whew.

John Irving is one of those authors whose endings I admire. Irving says he starts with the end and builds the story towards that: “I always begin with a last sentence; then I work my way backwards, through the plot, to where the story should begin.” He rarely changes as much as a comma in that sentence. My favourite of his novels – A Prayer for Owen Meany – is a prime example. The end of the book is extraordinary: even on re-reads when I know what’s going to happen, the end moves me to tears.

Often when I’m writing a short story, I try to do something similar – have a final sentence in mind and write the story to reach that point. I often feel that these have been my most successful stories – see Eddie’s on Fire or Breathe In where I’ve had an ending in mind and looked back for the start of the story.

So what am I going to do with the ending of my novel? The end I had in mind when I began, isn’t quite the end that I’ve arrived at. It works, to an extent, but it needs to be right. I’ve started work on it, developing and extending – the main problem was it was all over too suddenly: 300 words, and not especially good words. The final scene probably needs 1000 and every one has gotta shine like a diamond. It has to be a singularity. I have my work cut out for me, but I will make it.

The last sentence? That might take as much work as everything else. Combined.

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