Do you ever struggle with endings? I do. Sometimes a story seems to magically complete itself, but more often I become uncertain as I reach the conclusion. I wonder What happens now?
So what are my tips when this uncertainty descends? Here are my top five:
- Look back at your story so far. Have you written past the ending? I did this in one of my stories, Tempest. I was rambling on about other things, completely ruining the piece. I eventually stopped, knowing the ending was bad, but unsure what to do. I read back over the last few paragraphs and got a chill when I realised. There! Right there! In a simple description, I’d already written the final two lines. I cut the rest, and the story was done.
- Brainstorm possible endings using pen and paper. (This is something I learnt to do in a writing workshop run by acclaimed Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty). Write your question in the centre of a piece of paper – in this case it might be something very simple like How does this end? (this technique is also great for untangling plot issues, testing alternate beginnings, etc). Draw arrows away from the central question and fill in answers. Write down literally anything that comes to mind, even if it strikes you as ridiculous. Keep going until you have ten or twelve conclusions to your story. Chances are, one of these ideas will jump out at you. Problem solved.
- Go back to the beginning of your story or novel. What was the very first scene? Is there an important object, unusual weather, something the protagonist was musing at the start to which you could return? It won’t work for all stories, especially ones where there is a radical shift in the main character’s life, but there is something really satisfying in a story that circles back.
- Read the whole piece through, thinking particularly of themes, images and recurring motifs. These are aspects of our work we don’t always notice until we reflect. The ending may lie in deftly using one of these.
- Sit with your characters, especially the main character, as you write towards the ending. Know them as well as your closest friend. Imagine what they’re feeling in a physical sense – how their skin feels, what their stomach is doing, how they’re moving their limbs. Think what they’re thinking. See what they’re seeing. Be with them as if you’re inside their mind and body, then write what happens next.
If you, too, find endings tricky, I hope these suggestions help. And if you have tips of your own, I’m keen to hear them!