One of the key aspects to any novel is how the story ends. If the ending doesn’t make sense, or your readers dislike how things work out, then it can ruin any work you may have put into the rest of the novel.
Endings don’t just fall into place, they take a lot of work to create. But, as writers we have to make it look like they do just fall into place – that this is the natural outcome of all the previous actions of our characters. When I’m reading, I take for granted all the work the writer must have done in subtly leading me to their conclusion; but in trying to write one, I realise it takes a lot of hard graft and concentration.
An unsatisfying end can undermine everything you have written before it, no matter how brilliant…I may absolutely adore Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, but I felt bitter disappointment in the end: even though I can admit that there was no other option. I didn’t like the thought of her characters ending up as they did. If I’m really honest it made me feel a little cheated – that I’d invested so much time in reading the novel, so excited and intrigued only for it to fall flat when it finally drew to a close. Sometimes I wonder if Flynn didn’t just write herself into a corner that she just couldn’t quite escape from.
Therefore, as I’ve been refining my synopsis for That which is left is lost I’ve had to really question the final section of my novel. Is what happens believable? Does it make sense for my characters? Has it answered the questions I initially posed? Have my characters actually changed as result of what’s happened? Because of these things, I’ve made the decision to add an epilogue, to demonstrate the repercussions of my protagonist’s actions and to wrap up the storyline completely.
I’ve also had to alter a couple of my characters and even change the ending I originally had in mind. It’s not been an easy process to develop a larger part for a minor character and flesh her out so that, in the end, she accepts someone else’s child as her own. It’s also been a challenge to take a character I really liked and make it so they antagonise my protagonist rather than support him. But these are essential changes to tighten the plot and bring out the necessary elements in my protagonist that force him to go on a journey and analyse the person he was so he can become the man he is in the end of the novel.
The original end to my first draft was weak. I can admit that now. I was focusing on the wrong outcome and concluding my main antagonist’s story (Madeline) instead of showing how my protagonist (Dr Whalley) had developed and grown as a result of his interaction with Madeline. In my first draft, Dr Whalley hadn’t changed at all, which made the entire novel worthless to a reader: it might have been an interesting story, but there were no consequences, no outcome for my main character or any reason for a reader to root for him to be a better man.
What it has all come down to is the clarity of my character’s motivations. The more I understand who they are and why they do the things they do, the better able I am to manipulate their desires and flaws into crafting the ending that best represents their journey. Sometimes this means changing aspects of characters around them – bringing minor people into the forefront and tweaking another character to challenge rather than support my protagonist, for example.
Now I feel my ending is much stronger – even if there are elements that appear surprising. Having Dr Whalley’s wife accept his child with another woman as her own is a huge leap, but knowing that her desire to be a mother is stronger than her feeling of betrayal allows me to convince readers that it is believable. Also, knowing this from the beginning of my revision process it means I can work up to it and mould his wife into that person who will eventually make that decision for the good of her marriage, her husband and, ultimately, herself.
What I’m learning from this process is to not allow my first draft to fool me into believing that it’s the right draft; that things can be flexible; that something as big as the ending can be fundamentally rewritten. It has to make sense, it has to satisfy the reader and, most of all, it has to allow the writer to build up to it naturally and not force the final showdown. If anything, as the writer we have to ensure that our endings are just as believable as the fictional characters we’ve created and this means convincing ourselves as much as the reader.
How do you feel about endings? Have you ever been disappointed by the conclusion of a novel before? Has it ruined the book for you?
Let me know in comments or Tweet Me.