I have a problem with ending things. I’m a pantser, see. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, feeling which way the wind blows through the vibrations in the fundamental point of contact. As a writer, this gets… complicated. Ok, messy is probably the better word there.
For one thing, I have a tendency to see that there is more than one possible ending. There can be many, many variations. But I want to choose the one that will make me happy, and possibly my readers, and this is something real life rarely gives you: satisfaction. Real life? The loose ends remain loose, flopping around with resolution impossible. Fiction? We can tuck those in neatly and reveal the synthetic picture we have used our words to draw.
Well, within reason. I prefer, for realism’s sake, to leave a few loose ends. Sometimes, if I plan to write another book in the series, I’ll leave some major threads that are intended to be picked up in the continuing saga of… whatever I’m writing right then. But for the sake of my readers and my self I try to give a warm happy glow to the finish of whatever I just wrote. Sometimes. Not always. Not every ending is happy or complete, just like in real life.
Fiction for me, both as a writer and a reader – which follows, because I tend to write stories I’d want to read. Who wouldn’t? – tends toward escapism. Life is long, full of drudgery, and painful. Fiction shouldn’t be. It reminds us that there are possibilities out there, and hope, and oddly enough, it can help prepare us better for life. Studies have been done on this, and show that people who read a lot have better emotional intelligence. Because they were able to look at the inner workings of another person’s mind, their motivations, their feelings, they are able to come away from reading fiction with heightened empathy.
Strange, but true. That doesn’t mean I’m thinking about that while I am writing, though. No, when I am in the throes of creation, I’m rarely thinking about any of the mechanics of why I am doing what I am doing. I’m just writing (or speaking) the words as fast as I can while the story plays out in my head. It’s only later that I’ll look back and realize what I’ve done. Which isn’t to say I’m completely out of control.
For instance, this coming week I plan to finish a novel. I know what the ending ought to be. However, I’m concerned that having it end with a truce will be unsatisfactory. Even though there will be a second book in this series (at least loosely connected to the first, ala detective novels that follow the same character) I want to make sure I’ve woven in enough ends that my book doesn’t more closely resemble a shag rug than a smooth tapestry. I’ve been running through scenarios in my head, knowing that when I sit down to write today I may lose sight of all those while my fingers fly over the keyboard. Dictation, I have discovered, makes it worse because I can’t look at what I’ve written in a momentary pause, and by the time I’m letting Dragon transcribe for me, I’ve forgotten some of the words I chose.
I’m dithering. I always do when I come to the end of something. I did when I wrote Dragon Noir’s end, which was also a trilogy end. I have two pieces of reader feedback over the years that meant a lot to me when it comes to that end. I’ll try to give them without spoilers. One was from a friend, who read the entire series while resting after the birth of her daughter. She messaged me to let me know she was dissolving in tears at the end of that book. The other reader was my son, this last year while he was 14-15. He read the series and told me that the ending wasn’t fair. It was really sad, and how could I do that? I reminded him gently – we were in the car, I was driving – that when I wrote that book, I was living away from my children. I had them under my wings not too long afterward, but there is something about that loss of precious time that I had to write out. So I did. And it is a happy ending, the end of Dragon Noir, and the series. But there is a terrible price to pay that will leave a scar.
Fiction and life intertwine. We can use the one to better navigate the other. But the thing about life? There are no endings we can experience to use in the writing. Once we have our own ending, we are past the ability to write. So fictional ends are hard. And there are always options for more story, because there is still more life in us to live.