Last week, I mentioned Janice Hardy’s article on fixing pacing problems. But there’s one issue that really gets to me on a personal level as a writer, and when I read other people’s work. And that’s writing a good ending.
In that post, I mentioned what to do when an ending seems rushed, as that’s my own personal demon. But what if your problem is the opposite?
If you’ve ever read a book or watched a movie and, with respects to Kevin Murphy, said, “this thing just keeps on ending,” then you’ve faced a pacing problem. The end is dragging on and on and it seems like twenty-thousand loose ends are being tied up to the point where you’re ready to throw the book across the room or get up and walk out on the movie.
The worst part is when it’s your work that just keeps on ending, and rather than being satisfying and digestible, the work is on life support and tying your stomach in knots. You know your reader will scream, “just pull the plug already!”
If that’s happening to you, here are a few things you can do to fix them:
- Are you over-explaining the end? Not every detail needs to be wrapped up and spoon-fed to the reader. Give a satisfactory climax to the ending and your reader can use their imaginations about what happens to the others involved, as long as it’s mostly wrapped up.
- Start your ending for some characters in the previous chapter. This is a good way to kill off or send a character out of town without having to explain it at the end.
- Leave the reader hanging. Not only does that give you a chance to write a new novel later, it allows the reader to stretch their imaginations and decide for themselves how it ends.
- Stop at the climax or shortly after. This ties in with over-explaining. Rather than continuing with an epilogue or another chapter, end just after the climax and don’t concentrate on the aftermath.
- Start over. Make your character learn absolutely nothing from his or her experience, or go back to the start and begin again. This is a good one for dark-themes and noir novels, or for plot-driven science fiction and fantasy.
Sometimes I will write three different endings and let my beta readers and editor look at them. I take all their feedback, and then pick the best one or the one I like the most and fix it accordingly. Remember, anything and everything can be fixed in edits.
No matter what ending you choose, if you notice it’s sagging, be your own cosmetic surgeon. Try out one or all of these endings and see if it doctors your story just right.