Flying by the Seat of Your Pants: Sticking the Ending

Batman The big pitfall of planless writing is that the story will go nowhere.The questing party will wander around the mines of Moria in the dark and never get out. The hobbits forget about the One Ring and become involved in the court politics of Gondor. Aragorn and Arwen hop into bed and suddenly the novel becomes 50 Shades of Grey. Saruman gets involved with flamewars on 4-chan and doesn’t imprison Gandalf in Orthanc.

This is unacceptable. You, the author, have to keep control of the thing so that it goes somewhere. You may not know the plot, but you know when it runs off the rails. It has to end right. You must see to it that your readers close the book and say, ‘Wow!” If they say, “Waitaminute, that’s not an ending,” then you are in trouble. You must and shall shape the thing properly. You are not allowed to cheat your reader — or at least you can’t do it more than once. Remember the end goal? It’s not the Ring in the volcano. It’s a good book.

But now that you’ve written it (or most of it) you can brood over it. Consider the entire work coldly, as if it’s T.S. Eliot’s patient etherized on a table, and pick up the scalpel. Cut out the extraneous stuff (save it in another file somewhere) to tighten it up. Suss out where more stuff is needed, and create those patches or splices. If it’s boring here, why is it boring? Either omit it or fix it. I have written two or three endings for a book, fumbling for the right one. It’s there, I know it’s there, and all I have to do is find it.

Figure out what the theme of the work is, what it’s really about, and start driving everything towards that theme. A good book is almost never just written. It’s rewritten, hammered out on the forge of the word processor. Does it save time, to outline the thing down to the paragraph level so that you don’t have to massively renovate the first draft? Yes it might — if you can write it that way. All the work has to be done, one way or the other. Whether it’s at the front end or the back end is up to you!





Flying by the Seat of Your Pants: Sticking the Ending — 2 Comments

  1. I know people who outline to the scene level, never the paragraph level. One acquaintance wrote inspirational romances and the publisher required a VERY detailed outline to make sure the plot didn’t wander off into forbidden territory.

    That said, my characters won’t let me follow a detailed outline. They have bigger and better plans than I do.

    But I have to know the ending before I start writing so I can drive the characters in that direction. They do strange things along the way but we eventually get to the bonfire that they have to master and tame. Sometimes they’ll strip off their clothes and dance around it. Sometimes they curl up in a ball and whimper until I find a better ending, but we are all at a place where an ending must happen and we mutually decided what is best for the book.

  2. If I need it I have a standard ending that I can use for everything. It is, “…and they all died.” Works great, and I never get there, so there are no downsides at all.