I've been working on a project whose ending has been elusive. I wrote toward a specific ending, but when I got there, it seemed a bit--off. Underwhelming. But I wasn't sure what else to do with it. I tried this and that. I went back and seeded certain things earlier in the story, to set up the ending better. I rewrote the ending scene. I made it longer. I made it shorter. It got better, but I was still plagued by nagging doubts.
I usually have trouble with endings, much more so than with beginnings. Here's how I have solved a few of them:
--Look back at the theme. What's this story really about? That gave me the ending of one of my short stories, "Feed the City."
back to the beginning. Have I fully explored everything that was
present in the opening scene? Where else can I take it? These questions
led me to an entirely new climax and ending for Try Not to Breathe.
off material that seems to be starting a whole new story. Get into the
character's head in order to give him emotional resolution. Go all out
emotionally, and then dial it back just a touch. That's how I wrote the
final scene of The Secret Year.
For my current project, I
took an idea from a novel I just finished reading. That novel's author
had written a climactic scene full of sparks and confessions and
consequences, a real payoff for the tension that had built up over the
course of the book. As I read it, it reminded me of the way movies often
end; I could really visualize that scene happening in a movie. So I
looked at my own story and asked whether it could end with a bang
instead of a whimper. In my latest draft, the main character takes an
important, but quiet, step. I started looking at what kind of step could
have the same meaning, but be much more interesting and significant,
involving more characters and a bigger emotional payoff. How could my own book have a movie-style ending? And I've come
up with an idea. It may or may not lead to a better ending, but after
several hours of thinking it over, I'm still enthusiastic.
I conclude that brainstorms come from anywhere and everywhere. That's
one reason to develop a large writing toolbox; you never know which tool
a project is going to need.