Finishing Your Book, When Your Characters Story Doesn’t End

Originally Posted Oct.19th 2015

There are a lot of blog’s and forum threads out there discussing the difficulties of starting a novel, or overcoming the inevitable mid-point writers block. There are relatively few discussing the difficulties of ending one, ending it well that is, especially when the nature of the genre is to not conclude in a typical fashion.

I bring this up because I can see the ending to Iris looming over me and I’m really struggling to finish. Ending has never been my strong point when writing. Double/Cross was one of the best projects I could ever work on because there were so many endings I completely lost track of which one was the last one, and I was as surprised as everyone else to announce I was done.

Then there was Tick-Tock, no way of avoiding the ending in that one, and I struggled a lot with it. A lot happens at the end there and fitting it all in in a way that wasn’t like being smacked in the head with a bag full of bricks was very hard. But in the end I managed to put it to bed because Vega, whose personal development was always the core of the story, really had come to an end. So even though her world is on the brink of a revolution when I left her I could do so knowing that she was at least vaguely equipped to deal with it.

So that brings me to Iris, and why I’m struggling so much with it. The main problem is the end of her story doesn’t really come at her end (if you see what I’m saying), I can imagine a myriad of other things I’m sure will befall her after she’s left alone, and she’s certainly not equipped to deal with them. It’s very difficult to leave her when you’re sure everything isn’t going to be okay.

Now I’ve always been an advocate of the idea an ending doesn’t need to be happy, it’s all about a characters personal journey, and it makes it much more real if there is no perfect ending. I’m one of those hopeless cases who genuinely enjoys the Eastern Style non-endings we all see in works from companies like Studio Ghibli. So I was quite surprised to struggle so much with Iris – As I’m basically going for the same thing, it’s all about her journey, not where she ends up.

So I went back to another book that I read recently, whose protagonist’s story also doesn’t end when the book does. I felt satisfied at the end of her story you see, so I wanted to analyse what was so different between our endings. The book was Jacqueline Wilson’s new work, a retelling of ‘What Katy Did’, just called ‘Katy’ now, in which the modern Katy doesn’t get back the use of her legs and has to learn to live with a severe spinal injury.

Iris and Katy’s stories are very different, but by the end they both still have their problems, with no chance of escaping them. However I did realize the mistake I’ve been making – and it’s basically trying to end Iris in the same way I did with both Tick-Tock and Double/Cross and all my previous amateur works. To put it simply I was making a list, of all the stuff that’s getting tied up or that’s going right. Go back over most fantasy books you read, and the endings are lists, very elaborate enjoyable lists, of things falling into place one after another.

That habit’s quite difficult to think outside of, but now that I have I’m finding writing Iris’s end much easier. Instead of listing everything that’s fallen into place for her I’ve spent the last five pages focusing on just one thing she does have. It balances well, her story is still ending the same but I’m significantly happier because I feel like the end doesn’t meander into nothing. I hope the readers will actually feel like it’s an ending now because it ends with a focus on something positive instead of a reminder of all the swill she trudges through from beginning to end.

There’s another lesson there that goes along the lines of ‘Joy begets sadness’, but that’s a different conversation.

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