Week of Writers’ Block: Day 7

Well here we are! It’s the end of week 3 of NaNoWriMo and the end of our Week of Writers’ Block! I hope that even one of these posts has given you some motivation to keep going towards your goal! Today is the final day of our week so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about endings.

Day 7: Where We End Up

You’ve done it! You reached the end! You’ve trekked through mountains and valleys and over rivers and under a couple of overpasses (cursing the over-development of our natural resources, of course) and finally come to the end. You think. I mean, you could have ended it at anytime so what makes now the end? Did you say, “I’m going to walk 100 000 steps and then I will be done” or did you just figure you’d know when the end came? Should you head back to your car now or is that another clearing over there that you should check out first?

How do you know when you’ve finished? There’s a whole lot of talk about “satisfying” a reader, but what does that even mean? How do you know that you should end the book here versus three chapters from now or thirteen pages ago?

1. What’s Your Genre?

Different genres have different expectations regarding where your ending is. If you’re writing a romance, it’d be really strange to write the whole book where your two characters never get together. They may not end up together, but isn’t the whole point of a romance to get to the steamy bits? In murder mysteries, the ending would be incredibly unsatisfactory if the reader never learned who the killer was. They don’t necessarily need to be caught, but if you ended the book with “and the killer killed everyone investigating the case gruesomely. The end.” I’m pretty sure there’d be some pretty angry readers out there.

So research your genre a little bit. “Ew! Research?” you say, but don’t worry hypothetical reader! You’ve already done lots of research. Writers are often readers (actually if you’re trying to write a book in a genre you don’t read…maybe put down the pen and pick up a book). Think of your favorite books in your genre. How did they end? What was resolved? What wasn’t? Now think of your least favorite books in your genre. How did they end? What didn’t you like about the ending?

Don’t copy other authors’ endings, but see the level of resolution and try to emulate it.

2. Sequel or Standalone?

If you’ve hiked all this way, it’s a good idea to know whether you’d like to rest for a while before starting the second leg of this journey or if your hike is complete where you are. You’re going to end in different places if you plan on following this novel with a second one or if you feel like the story is complete in and of itself.

There is a huge push to write book after book after book in a series and, in some cases, it’s a great way to ensure that you have a repeat customer base. But not all books need sequels. It’s not an automatic mark of value if your book is the first in a trilogy. Series and standalones both have their own merits, but they change the way that the stories end.

If you’re writing a series, you could end the book with the main storyline still up in the air, but having many of the subplots resolved. A good example of this is Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller ChroniclesThe main story is trying to figure out how the great and powerful Kvothe went from magical protege to unknown innkeeper. It’s a trilogy (sort of. There is a short story and a novella that are tied to this series as well). Each book ends a part of Kvothe’s life, but doesn’t explain how he got to where he is at the beginning of the first book until the end of the third (or I assume so since the third book isn’t available yet). J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter  series is the same. Each book details a year in the life of Harry Potter, but the conflict with Voldemort isn’t resolved until the seventh book.

In a series, you could also write standalone novels that connect via the setting or even some of the characters, but are not so necessary to one another that you have to read them in an order or even read them all. Brian Jacques’ Redwall series is a great example of this. All 20+ novels in this series are connected in setting and refer to characters from his other books, but each are a standalone story that you can read in any order. There is no overarching plot or theme.

If you’re writing a standalone novel, you will need to make sure all your subplots are resolved. They don’t all have to have happy endings or endings at all, but the reader should have a sense that you didn’t just abandon that storyline or plot.

Once you know whether you are writing a series or a standalone novel, you should have a better idea if you’re at the ending of the book or not. Keep in mind for a series, though, that you and your readers are making a commitment to stay engaged until the end so you need to have enough material to keep going without stretching the plot until it’s threadbare. Each book still needs to end with enough resolution that if a sequel weren’t to be published (maybe you lose interest or, heaven forbid, you die before it’s released), your readers would still have some measure of joy in reading it. Think here of Robert Jordan’s The Wheels of Time series.

3. What’s Your Map Say?

If you had a plan, even a general one, of where you wanted your story to go, use that as a measure against where you are now. Retrace some of your steps to make sure your subplots are resolved. When you think you’re at the end, this might be a good time to go back and read the entirety of your book, making notes for each plot or summarizing each chapter as you go. This will also turn you into your own reader and you can get to the ending and think either yes, this is what you want or no, what have you done? You could get one of your first readers to help you with this.

Another way to double check your map is to summarize where each character has ended up or the resolution of each plot in 1 sentence to yourself. For example, Snow White and Prince Charming get married after defeating the Evil Queen. The Dwarves are content to go back to their lives as weird bachelors, having aided the new queen and her husband. Evil Queen dies horribly offscreen. If you can’t summarize, maybe there is still more to write.

These are all ways to double check to see if you’ve finished your book, but I think that each writer, in their heart of hearts, knows when the book is done. And by done, I mean finished the first draft. Because after this comes edits and rewrites and all the scary technical bits of writing a book. And knowing when that is done is a fine art, so I’ve heard.

Have you finished a story and wondered if it was truly finished? What do you do? Tell me below and thank you for joining me for this Week of Writers’ Block!

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