“The End”

From Jane Friedman’s blog: Finding Your Way to the End

From the post: “I love what Jane Smiley says about finishing the rough draft of a novel in her excellent tome, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel …To write through to the end of the rough draft, in spite of time constraints, second thoughts, self-doubts, and judgments of all kinds, is an act of faith that is invariably rewarded—the rough draft of a novel is the absolute paradigm of something that comes from nothing.

Wow, what a great quote! I love that. I mean, obviously I would, but I do. That’s my bolding. That’s the part that’s so perfectly true. I’m not sure about the invariably rewarded part; that might be a little iffy.

But it’s interesting to me that the post is actually discussing problems that arise when finishing your novel and methods you can use to get the ending written.

I’m trying to think of a book of mine where the ending was the hard part. … …. … Nope, I don’t think that has ever happened to me.

Which is not to say that I haven’t gazed thoughtfully at the screen for minute after minute, adding a few words or sentences and taking them out again. But to write the last few pages and especially the last few paragraphs of a novel generally takes me minutes that add up to, oh, less than an hour, not days or weeks or whatever.

I specifically remember writing the last paragraphs of TUYO. I remember that because relatives were visiting — it must have been within a day or so of my dad’s 85th birthday, because that was a couple of years ago and several uncles and aunts came for the occasion. And I said to one of my aunts, “Okay, I’ll see you at lunchtime, I’ve got to go write the ending to a book.” Then I strolled across the street back to my house, sat down, opened up the file, gazed at the screen for a bit, and wrote the ending. And sure, I fiddled with it a bit after that, but that was basically the ending that exists in the final version. That’s about how long it took to write: from late morning to lunchtime.

But, well, I like endings. Beginnings and building action and denouements and endings. Those are usually the parts I like best.

Let’s see what the post says about this …

  1. Settle for a placeholder: Don’t press for profundity or go back to the beginning and start revising. Don’t leave the ending for later. Instead, settle for a placeholder this time around.
  2. Please yourself:  Pleasing yourself is paramount because in doing so, you are likely to interest a select group of others, those whose reading preferences are like yours.
  3. Please the reader: John Dufresne counsels leaving “the reader with a compelling, sensual image of the central character, if that’s appropriate, or of the setting, one that is so resonant and arresting that it stays with us when we close the book.”

Well, those sound like good tidbits of advice to me. Although … I have to say, an ending you know is a temporary placeholder does look to me a lot like not having an ending.

I agree that pleasing yourself is crucial, for exactly the reason given, and for other reasons.

I like the idea of ending with a compelling image of the central character and/or the setting. Actually, I think that’s how I ended both TUYO and TARASHANA.

Anyway, this is a decent post — short, but nice for prompting thoughts about endings and what makes a good ending.

I have a few candidates for excellent endings:

A) I just re-read Sharon Shinn’s Fortune and Fate. This is one of my favorites of hers, and I re-read it just now because I told Sharon I stole three words, embedded in one line, from this book and I bet she would recognize it when she got to it.

“It’s a brief phrase, but it changes the protagonist’s emotional landscape, just like in F&F,” I said. “You’ll totally recognize it.” I was right, too. She sent me a “There! That line!” email when she got to it, and told me the story of coming up with that line herself. and why she had found it so powerful. So did I, which is why I picked it up and used it in a similar, if not identical, context.

It’s not actually a spoiler as long as I take it completely out of context, so I’ll tell you, it’s when one of the important secondary characters says to Ryo, “But Ryo, I think you already have.”

I bring all this up so I can say that I love the ending paragraphs of Fortune and Fate. Just lovely.

B) Patricia McKillip’s The Book of Atrix Wolfe always leaps to mind for me for examples of perfect endings. The last line of the novel is just to die for. But you must, must, must read the whole thing first. That line loses its impact read in isolation.

C) The Scouring of the Shire is an absolutely crucial ending for TLotR, and I will always be sorry Jackson left it off, even though I understand perfectly well that including it would have made the movie too long. Personally, I would have cut elsewhere and put it in.

How about you? What’s an example of an ending section, scene, paragraph, or line that seems particularly perfect to you?

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8 thoughts on ““The End””

  1. I’m only half-joking when I say I’m surprised Peter Jackson didn’t make an entire movie out of LORD OF THE RINGS 4: THE SCOURING OF THE SHIRE.

    The very last scene and line in LotR as written also packs a punch.

  2. That’s interesting about ending with a compelling image. I’m going to have to see if I can incorporate that.

    I’ve never had a problem with endings myself, just the sagging middle issue. But I recently read a book that was okay (not fabulous, but okay) until the ending, and suddenly the author was circling and circling around in repetitive dialog without being able to come to a conclusion. I got frustrated, then bored. If I hadn’t skimmed the last few pages, it would have been a DNF, which I’ve never done before at 99.9% of the way through

  3. Where Lymond sees Phillippa at the end of Checkmate. When Dianaora dies and someone says to Brandt- “she was from Certando. Everyone knows that”. When Miles finishes the class at the academy by surviving the accident divided by his instructors. Some people do not do endings quite as well. For example, there was such a buildup in Michelle Wests The Sun Sword series for the meeting of Serra Diora and Valedan-her ending fell flat. I do love all the endings of your books.

  4. Craig, I’m not joking at all when I say I’m surprised Jackson didn’t do exactly that. It would have been far better than stretching The Hobbit out into a ridiculously overblown three movies.

    Evelyn, interesting! I’ve definitely never DNF a book when I got that far. I’m trying to remember losing interest right at the end. I’m sure that’s happened, but I’m not coming up with examples right now.

    Alison, YES for the Lymond series. Which series is it with Dianora and Brandt? And, thanks!

  5. Dianora is from Tigana, not a series.

    I wouldn’t call all those examples final images, but they certainly come close to the end and tend to linger.

  6. Elaine Thompson

    Hughart, Bridge of Birds. for the way everything comes together and the sheer joy conveyed.

  7. And, you need to prod the wordpress people again. This post is showing a count of only four comments on the main blog page, although when I select it to read six show up.

    Both Elaines up there are me, BTW.
    CJC is good at the abrupt ending with an image, such as the end of FitEoT. I do like books like LotR that offer a longer wind down, too. The Lymond series does that. Gives us that image, and then a chapter or so of wrapping up. McKillip, Riddle-master, the last image, after everything that went on and the breather… Just Morgon and Raederle walking in Hed. It’s vivid to me, if not everyone.

    They all depend on the weight built up by everything preceding those moments. Which is where trying to demonstrate how awesome the ending is by quoting the line usually doesn’t work.

  8. Okay, Elaine, sigh, I’ll see if they can figure out if there’s still officially a problem or if it’s in theory supposed to be fixed.

    Cuckoo’s Egg by CJC is another with a fabulous, fabulous last line. That, yes, definitely has no impact at all unless you read the preceding story.

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