Friday, June 24, 2016

Finding an ending

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."

--Go 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.

--Lop 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.

Basically, 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.

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