A writer friend of mine recently commented that she needed 15k more words to end her book. But when she was 10k words farther along, she realized she needed yet another 15k words.
I had the opposite experience with the last two books I wrote. Each time I thought I needed another 15k words to the ending, and then on further reflection, I realized that I was actually in the ending.
All of this makes me wonder: how do we recognize an ending? We know we have to resolve the main plot of the story, and in crime fiction that means loosely to restore order. We solve the mystery, we release the tension of suspense, we account for justice and the criminal in various ways, depending on subgenre. But there’s more to an ending than resolution.
1. Endings are also about timing. When is the time right to end?
In short stories, the form dictates tightness. In novel length, there’s room to wander after interesting plot threads. But in the end, all those threads should come together. In my last book, I realized that extra words really didn’t contribute to the wrap-up in the end. It was just a detour, a way to put off writing the end.
2. Endings are also about type. Is it a “final” ending? Or is it a pause?
In a stand-alone novel, all plot threads need to be wrapped up or at least suggested. In a series novel, the ending is more like a pause until the next book. While the main plot needs to be resolved, some plot threads carry over, to be resolved in later books. The last book of the series hopefully resolves the questions accumulated throughout.
3. Endings are also about tone.
When a story is light in tone, it will be punchy and more effective when its ending comes sooner rather than later. More serious stories with more complex characters have room to grow, wandering down side paths that drive home the point. There’s a risk in leaving these stories too soon, before the reader is emotionally ready to give them up.
4. Endings are also about balance.
Long books can accommodate longer endings (defined as that portion of the book that takes place after the climax ends). But when a shorter book has a longer ending, it feels out of balance, and it just seems to ramble on and on…
It’s not always clear when a book should end. Endings make us scramble to find resolution and give meaning to what went before. But one ending that IS clear is the end of our calendar year. Here’s hoping the end of your year resolves exactly the way you meant!