I like beginnings. Always have. Always will.
This carries over to my writing. The beginning of a story comes easily, with the first line or scene floating into my brain.
Endings are harder because fiction — unlike life — promises to tie everything together by the time the story ends.
Gosh. That’s a big promise.
There’s a saying in publishing: “The beginning sells your current book. The ending sells your next.” In other words, the beginning and the ending should make the reader want to keep reading.
Because I plot my books ahead of time, I generally know how they need to end. It just takes me a while to figure out how to write it. Since my books are humorous, my endings should be at least mildly amusing, which adds to the challenge.
Because I find endings difficult, I’ve thought and read a lot about them. Here is what I’ve found that works for me.
- Romance fiction always ends with a HEA (happy ever after). It’s the law (at least of romance). Other types of fiction may have more leeway. I would argue this presents a unique set of challenges. We have to reach that HEA, yet make the ending believable and entertaining.
- Avoid clichés. Too many people already believe romance is a cliché. Don’t give them ammunition. And please don’t end with the couple staring off into the sunset. Just don’t.
- Tie up major loose endings, at least the ones relating to the main characters. You may want to leave readers wondering what happens to one or two of the minor cast members. Sequel, anyone?
- Speaking of characters. Make sure the ending fits yours. If your hero is a tough, alpha kind of guy, and he and the female lead are in conflict over how to raise their child, it would be out of character if the book ends with them deciding he’ll be Mister Mom so she can pursue her career. Result? Readers will feel cheated, and they won’t want to read your next book. Not a HEA for anyone.
- If you resolve the conflict with compromise, make it a compromise. Please (I beg you!) don’t have the woman suddenly give in on everything. You’ll break my heart.
- Tying the book’s end to its beginning can be both satisfying and effective. I like books that end this way, so I tend to use the same strategy.
- If you’re still stuck, try brainstorming with your critique partners or other writer friends. The suggestions may get silly (especially if you’re enjoying a glass or two of wine during the brainstorming session), but these are people who know how you write. They’re likely to have an idea or two that you can use.
How about you? What kind of endings do you like? If you’re a writer, do you find endings or beginnings easier? What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve ever gotten on beginnings and endings? Leave a comment and tell all.
I personally find beginnings harder. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint where exactly a story begins, while I always roughly know where I want my story to end (with everything in between being completely out of my control).
Somehow I just get an idea and that starts me rolling, then I do the plotting, and then the writing. However, as with you, there’s always still plenty of surprises along the way!
Great post, Kym! I’m actually about to begin writing the last chapter of my romantic suspense book (as soon as I finish posting here!). I find the ending much easier to write than the beginning. By the time I get to the end, I know my characters and know what threads need to be wrapped up before writing The End. I can’t think of any mind blowing advice that I’ve been given, but I have some of my own to share. DON’T write an epilogue that is meant to be a teaser for the next book unless you know exactly where that next book is going. I did that and I paid for it. I stuck myself with a necrophiliac and three corpses found with snake remains sewn inside them. It took some time (longer than I’d planned) and serious brainstorming, but I made it work. 🙂
I’ll take that advice and run with it! My problem isn’t so much the threads as actually trying to find a clever way to write the words! I get there, but it’s always a challenge!
I love this, Kym. Gave me plenty to think about. I usually know how my books are going to end before I start them, but getting to the point where you can write “The End” is a hard journey.
Thanks, Becky. What a kind thing to say. As you say, knowing how it ends and writing it are two different things.
Hi Kim: Thanks for the great post. Finding the right “place” to begin a story takes me a bit of time. I toss possibilities around, see who’s the best fit to deliver the “opening” and when it feels right, I go with it. I actually love writing endings, especially since I’ve just finished my 6th book in a series…I sprinkle just enough intrigue/interest in the epilogue to get the reader curious about the next book. One of the challenges I enjoy most about endings is pulling in something that’s been significant throughout the book and tying it in…and thus, tying up that loose end. Again, thanks for the great post!
Thanks for the comment, Mary. I have to admit I play a little with the wording of my beginnings, I generally end up going with the original idea if not phrasing, at least for the last few stories and books. I love how everyone has had different ideas on the subject.
Have you read In the Beginning by Chaim Potok? Talks a lot about how difficult beginnings are in writing and in general. Good stuff.
I do a different kind of writing than you do, but I find middles challenging — get hung up on details and go around and around a bit too much. But I don’t write sequentially, either, in research writing. Interesting discussion.
Haven’t read that book, Kristen, but will agree that middles are also challenging! 🙂