I finished splitting the first half of my current epic fantasy novel into its own story this weekend. It required some rewriting and rearranging, along with a new ending. I have now finished this novel twice. I will likely finish it at least twice more – once for an agent, once for an editor. Publishing is quite the ordeal.
All parts of a novel require deliberate, but the ending is particularly delicate. It must be well-paced, satisfying, emotional, and persistent. Pacing and persistence were on my mind the most tis past week. My climax is quite the ride – puzzle pieces fall into place with explosive results for the main characters. It’s incredibly emotional. I need to give the characters time to react to that after, and I need to let the reader breathe a little, too. Then another emotional high. Then another breath. Then an action high. Then another breath.
My novel ends on a breath. I think ending immediately after the action leaves readers lacking closure. They want time to savor events with your main character. Did someone die? Let the other characters mourn for a page, then end with hope. Did two characters come together? Give us a paragraph of them basking in happiness.
After a great deal of tragedy, I tried to end with some hope. However, there is danger in ending on a breath like that. It may not be memorable. You want readers to walk away with a stunned look, shaking their heads. You want them to pick up their phone and text someone, ‘I just finished this book and you have to read it’. Give them a sense of completeness, but don’t take too long. Don’t deflate the balloon of their excitement, or that referral may never happen.
And find a great last line.
The best one I’ve read is Fitzgerald’s for The Great Gatsby.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
It stands alone as a comment about life. It encapsulates the book perfectly. It is poetic, evocative, memorable.
Gatsby dies on page 174, and the book does not end for 18 more pages, or about 5,000 words. In that time, we learn about his secret life, his funeral arrangements, the emptiness of his relations, and Nick’s feelings about the whole affair. It is a melancholy ending, but it gives you pause. Here is a tragedy, dissected. Here is a nation, analyzed. All leading up to that one sentence. In a way, the whole book is leading up to that sentence, that summation.
This is what we should strive for. Writing is a house authors build brick by brick, yes. But for a reader, it is a mountain to climb. A linear journey. The last step should be exquisite, and the view at the top devastating.
The image to the left was inspired by the Great Gatsby’s ending. The boat upon the water is itself hazy and watery, like the American Dream Nick sees in all his western acquaintances.
My ending is also melancholy. I strove for heft in my last line. It doesn’t encapsulate the book – the previous line does that – but it speaks to the future. I think it says something about life.
My first beta reader reviewed my rewrites and enjoyed them, so after months of my boat moving backward against the current, it may float forward once more. The WIP is once again done.
I celebrated with some cake.