Where the story ends

Well, I’m back, wedded and rested and ready to blog. (Okay, so the last one doesn’t necessarily follow from the first two, but you get the idea.) And now that I’ve recovered some fraction of my brain — I don’t have to plan anything any more! woooo! — I’m going to ignore the wedding clichés from my last post and concentrate on something else entirely: the end of a story.

This is actually vaguely relevant to the last couple of weeks: because we didn’t go immediately on a honeymoon afterwards, we still each had a few obligations. One of mine was the monthly BRAWL meeting, for which I’d promised to have a story ready. And I did have one that I’d worked on as a distraction in the week before the wedding. All it needed was revision.

However, as I was revising it, two days late and muddying through the bits that had once been so clear in my head, I got a page and a half from the end and realized something: the end of this particular story was terrible. Embarrassingly so. Bad enough that I decided I could not in good conscience submit it to the group.

Now, I’ve submitted stories with major flaws to BRAWL before, and I undoubtedly will do so again. I suspect members of BRAWL can think of several I submitted that had lousy endings as well. But for some reason this one just seemed too bad to send out, and while some of that may be due to post-nuptial brain, I think it’s more that I consider the end of a story incredibly important. If it doesn’t work, the story as a whole fails.

Endings are, for me, much more important than beginnings. I’ve read one too many books and seen one too many series where I enjoyed it all the way up to just before the end — and then had all those expectations shredded. (This is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to watch the fourth season of Doctor Who, since the last episode of the third season pissed me off so very much. Great buildup and then pffft! all that wasted. Gah.) This is why I’m a little wary of recommending series that aren’t finished, since a bad ending can sour me on the rest. Although it doesn’t really keep me from starting new series. You’d think I’d know better.

It shows in my writing process as well: I tend to think up the endings to stories first. (The failed story was a rare exception.) I knew the end to Spiral Hunt even back in the first, unrecognizable draft; I even had the same basic shape of the climax of the story, even though the people and setting and motivations all changed. I knew the end of Wild Hunt before I started writing it, and I knew what the end to the third book would be as well. Even as I’m working on it right now and changing things mid-draft (let’s toss a character in! Oh crap, that means I’ll have to redo the rest — oh well! Works better this way!), I know where I’m headed. Hell, if I ever write a fourth Evie book, I know what its end would have to involve, even though I know nothing else about the plot. It’s as if I can see a few shapes in the fog, and the beacon that guides me on is the endpoint of the story. So the end is overly important to me, sometimes to the detriment of the writing process, as is the case with the failed story that may, at some point, make its way to BRAWL.

What endings spoiled the rest of the story for you — or just made you reluctant to read the story again? Conversely, are there endings that saved stories? Writers, do you know the ending first, and if not, how do you know if the ending you get to is the right one?

5 Responses to “Where the story ends”

  1. 1 Terri-Lynne
    July 1, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Only because I just saw it yesterday, I’ll site “My Sister’s Keeper.” The book left me yawning–it’s just not my bag–but the ending was so totally unexpected that instead of a book I felt I wasted time reading, I was glad I read it even if I didn’t love it. (The movie, on the other hand, decided not to go with the ending in the book. I won’t say anything more but, blah.)

    When writing, I always know how it’s going to end. It’s honestly never occurred to me that you CAN write a story without knowing. When I attended VP(X), Jim Kelly told us to write ten different endings to any given story. Sometimes you don’t end up using ANY of those endings–but it gives you a place to look ahead to as you write–a trail (or several trails!) of breadcrumbs to follow…in reverse. Sorta…

    I have to say that writing ten endings might work for some, but not for me. I need an absolute destination. It doesn’t have to HAPPEN in a specific way, but it does have to HAPPEN.

    Welcome back! Congratulations!

  2. 2 Emily
    July 1, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I Am the Messenger, by Marcus Zusak. The last twenty pages or so…

    …it’s weird. The book stands without them. Add them in and it’s a fundamentally different experience. I still can’t figure out if I loved or hated them. But certainly they’re memorable.

  3. January 1, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    That’s the best answer by far! Thanks for coguiibttrnn.

  4. January 6, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    That insight’s perfect for what I need. Thanks!

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