There came a day when I ended the new novel – the story arc had done its job, started out and then ramped up the tension and then came to a climax and then began to wind down and then came to an end. All the elements were there. The bones, the skeleton, of a book.
A week after that day, I actually FINISHED the book.
There IS a difference.
When you bake a cake. you start out with the ingredients – the flour, the eggs, the butter, the sugar, chocolate, maybe a bit of brandy or candied fruit. You sift the flour, melt the butter, combine the ingredients and you stir it all together. You have “ended” the preparation of the cake.
But there is something else that is still needed. An extra step. So you put the cake into an oven, and you leave it for a little while for the magic to happen. When you take out the cake pan, the content has transformed itself into something unrecognizable from the gloopy mess you put into the oven just a short while ago.
Your cake is finished.
In my case, I had written a wrapping-up sequence of events which tied up the loose ends of the plotline and left the reader with closure. The trouble was, it didn’t. Quite. It was at the gloopy stage, with all the ingredients tucked into the mess but with no real cohesion or meaning to it.
So I stuck it into the metaphorical oven – went back over the book once again, saw where major ingredients were playing an important part, figured out what they meant, figured out what they foreshadowed and what still needed to be stirred in and where – and then I looked at it again, and lo! It was now baked, and tasty, and ready to serve. It was finished.
Ending a book is one of the hardest things that an author is called upon to do. Endings are the last chance you will have to make that reader’s experience a satisfying one. It’s a tough balancing act – you have to provide closure without writing something so impossibly and unbelievably pat that nobody in their right mind would believe it for a moment.
You have to balance a certain amount of cliffhangerism with a certain amount of fatalism – it’s two sides of the same damn coin, and sometimes it feels like the coin is a Moebius coin with only one face and the only way you can provide EITHER of those things is by providing both at once. And that is hard, VERY hard.
Go look at the concluding paragraphs of your favorite books or stories. Re-read “Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C Clarke for as perfect an ending as you can have in a story. I defy you to forget the words of his last sentence, or the image they are leaving in your mind.
There are two very important things that will help carry you through a sagging middle, if you have that problem. The two things are BEGIN WELL and END EVEN BETTER. Those are the things that your readers carry with them when they put your book down. Make them remember your envoi, and they’ll remember the book, and they will remember your name.
So. When you end a piece of work, remember that all you’ve done is mixed the proper ingredients together. Remember that there is one last step left before you can call it quits.
It isn’t enough to just END it. You have to FINISH it.
The best thing you can ever do, as a writer, is come to a good end.