Saturday, June 18, 2011

Seeing the Light

You know you're a series writer when you never want your stories to end. I happen to be that kind of storyteller. I'm also allergic to happily ever after, don't like saying good-bye, and refuse to believe in Armageddon.

Then there is the frustrating mystery of the appropriate time to stop replying to e-mail replies, which I have never been able to solve. Do I stop replying too soon? Do I drag it out longer than I should? I'd put -30- at the end of mine, but not everyone would get it. And there's no graceful to say "Do you still want to reply, and then should I reply, or is it okay if I stop after you send the next one?"

Hey, I'm a writer. I worry about this stuff.

I also hate ending books, which is why I often rush through writing my last chapter. It's like taking cough medicine; sipping it slowly is simply not possible. For a while it was becoming a real problem for me; during the full manuscript editing phase I almost always threw out the last chapter because it sucked and rewrote it from scratch. Then someone mentioned online that they wrote their final chapter way before they got to it so they could work toward an ending versus screeching to a halt and wrapping it all up (and I'm sorry, but I don't recall who said that or I'd give them credit.)

I'm also a linear writer, in that I write from beginning to end without stopping, so I knew from the start that this was not going to be easy for me. Still, I wanted to see if it worked, so I tried it. I stopped when I was writing in first third of the book, and put together a draft of the last chapter. Once I finished it, I parked it at the end of the manuscript anyway and went back to pick up where I left off.

I don't think about what I've already written while I'm writing, so I forgot about it. And sure enough, when I got to the end of the book and started getting the usual, "Oh, God, I have finish it" heebie-jeebies, the ending was already there, like a nice little light at the end of the bridge.

Now granted, that last chapter draft was pretty rough, and needed plenty of revision because certain things had changed during the process of the novel. But I am much less stressed when I edit, especially when I have a completed manuscript to work on. I also didn't take as much time off between the writing and the full manuscript edit because I wasn't annoyed with myself or how I'd written the ending. Having it waiting for me was actually energizing.

If you wrestle with your endings and want to try this method, I have a few suggestions:

Know how you want your book to end (obviously writing ahead isn't going to work for organic writers) and briefly outline the chapter before you write it.

Write light. This is a draft, not a finalized chapter, so keep it simple and nail the most important details.

Characters, dialogue and action make a great framework for a draft chapter. Avoid things that bog down the writing, i.e. tons of description, endless setting, weather reports, travelogues, etc.

Don't tell yourself it's set in stone, because it's not. If it sucks you can always toss it and rewrite a new version from scratch.

Writing the last chapter while you're still working on the front of the book also has one final benefit: once you have it written, the book is technically finished. Then all you have to do is write toward that light at the end of the story bridge.

Image credit: © Karin Jehle |


  1. I am EXACTLY the same with e-mail! Heaven forbid we start an exchange, or we'll still be writing each other long past Armageddon (which I don't really believe in, either).

    I love the series idea, but I also love a good conclusion. What I hate is when things turn out TOO neat, so that my suspension of disbelief can't follow--and I can suspend it for just about anything. I'd rather have a sad and realistic ending than have it all work out but in a way I can't ever see really happening.

    That said, a little planning for the ending is a great idea. I actually tend to write out climaxes ahead of time, for I need my climax to work meaningfully with the rest of the work. I haven't done this with all my plays and novels, but I should...

    Come to think of it, my latest play really needs more of a climax. I need to get to work!

  2. Yeah, I hate my stories ending too - and I HAVE written many stories with series potential, or that HAVE become series already. hehe

  3. I do this a lot. And even though things change, there's a surprising amount of the original ending that still works. It does make it easier to get through finishing.

  4. I usually end an email exchange when the replies are down to a single word like "thanks" or "okay." And when it comes down to a single emoticon, you're past done.

  5. I usually just stop. I try to end my emails on a light note so hopefully, those I'm emailing won't think they need to respond. If I ask a question, that's another story.

    As to the endings, I usually know my ending when I start the book, but I don't write anything out. I should. My endings are surprisingly consistent with my starting vision so it probably would help me not to choke at the end.

  6. I work like it was a cloud thing, and then I have to go back and make sure it flows together. Mostly it does.

    I also take the NaNoWriMo challenge every November. Every year I end up with an ugly draft of a new book. I like that the path is now known and I can just put in those pieces here and there that seem to be missing, or need more explanation.

  7. I'm that way about emails, but not a natural series writer, though I have a few stories like that. I use my outline in that style, as the outline blurbs are often very rough drafts of what I think will be where the book will go...subject to changes along the way.

    And I haven't had trouble with dragging out the last few chapters of a novel since you gave me a carrot :).

  8. I do this a lot because I too hate the story ending. I like to think of the characters just going on with the next day of their lives after the book ends.

    Writing the ending first is like scheduling a dentist appointment at 8 o'clock in the morning. (No offense to any dentists reading this.)


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