Friday, February 25, 2011

Writing "The End"

Submitting your book to a publisher is undoubtedly one of the biggest days in an author's life. It's part leap of faith, part confidence, part sheer bravery. But before you get to that point, you need to do something first. You need to write the book - beginning, middle and end. Seems simple enough until you do it.

Some people say each book gets easier as you go along. I'm not sure if that's true, but even so there are books that sap the ever living daylights out of you and wring you so dry you think you're crazy for wanting this job at all.

The last book I finished was one of those. It took me three tries to get my ending right, and that involved two complete - and very different - endings. Once I'd finished the first version, I knew it wasn't right, though my CPs gave me mixed feedback. But I scrapped about 15K and went back to the drawing board. Then I wrote it again, and it worked. The main reason? I let my characters drive the book and not me.

Non-writers think that sounds like crazy talk. "But you made up those characters!" Yes, I made them up. But if I did my job right, at some point the flaws and traits I put on the page evolved into a character who would act in certain ways, though not necessarily how I would prefer. As long as I'm true to who the character is at their core, everything will work out. Accepting that is the hard part.

Every time I've stalled at the end of a book, it's been due to author intrusion. I'm very cognizant that certain reactions from a hero/heroine are "more acceptable" to readers than others and with my last book, I fought hard to stay within the constraints of those unspoken rules. Only problem was my hero wasn't about to do the heroic thing yet. He couldn't. He hadn't learned enough. So either I shoehorned him into a role he wasn't ready to accept or I let the scenes play out as they may.

Even with the second full rewrite, I had additional scenes in mind. I'd intended to draw the end scene out more because I know readers like to enjoy that HEA or HFN for a short while after all the time it has taken to get there. But yet again, my characters told me when to stop. And this time I listened.

Characters can be stubborn as all get out, insisting they know best. In my experience, they usually do. So if you're having trouble getting through a certain scene or part of your book, ask yourself if you're forcing your characters to behave in ways that don't match the individuals you've created.

Would Jane really pledge her undying love to the hero on page 125 or is that what you figured should happen at that point in the book? Is Jason really capable of selling his business and taking a sailboat cruise around the world after the black moment or would he be more likely to try to fight to the death to hold onto what is his? Give yourself the mental space for the characters to tell you their next step. They will...but probably on their timetable rather than yours.

What about you? Do you have trouble with endings or do you let your characters steer the ship from page one? Do you have another tactic for fighting through a stubborn scene or section of your story?


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