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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

Closing it Out.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I'm thinking now about endings, as I'm revising my most recent book.  Novels aren't often judged on their endings, unless the ending is baldly unsatisfying.  The beginning and the middle are the meat of a novel, the reason the thing was written, the crime, the investigation, the uncovering of the conspiracy, the ideas that were the very purpose of the work.  The ending is often just the way for the author to get out from under it all.  There is even something artificial about endings in novels because life never ends so neatly.  That's why the two most popular endings are death or marriage because they coincide with real endings in life, death of the body and death of the spirit. (If my wife sees this, it's just a joke.  It not . . .)

And yet, in a way, endings are the most crucial part of a book.  If every novel is the battle between two ideas, as I've written about before, than the ending gives us the winner.  1984 is about the forces of fascism versus individual freedom.  Which prevails?  We don't know until the end, when Winston Smith is famously broken in room 101.  There is no hope here, no love, no triumph of will, no transcendence.  This is what we get instead: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever."  Would Orwell's masterpiece be as powerful if Winston Smith prevailed?  Would we still read it?

So the ending rules.  I never start a book unless I know the way it will end, not the actual step by step thing of it, but the feel of it, the idea that will come out ahead.  And I usually have a final image that sums of much of what's been going on throughout the book.  John Irving says that he can't write even the first line if he doesn't know how it ends, and I understand that.  A lot of time I'm moving forward toward that final image.  Although I must admit that my endings often change as I move through the book.  The more I develop my characters and ideas, the more I get a sense that maybe I was wrong at the start, which is, paradoxically, a great sign.  If a book is working, it will talk to me more than I will dictate to it. 

And there are a number of ways to go about to close things out, which I'll talk about later.  The thing I want to emphasize now is don't minimize the ending.  It's not just the final big battle, the ending provides the ultimate meaning of the work.

End big, end bold, end smart.

2 Comments:

Anonymous KevinMSmith said...

Your ending for Hostile Witness is what fist made me want to read more and more (the fact that it was atypical and closer to "real world") To jump on your last post as well, the sex sequences were masterful in my humble opinion.

As always, awaiting patiently your latest opus.

February 6, 2010 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger William Lashner said...

Hey Kevin,

Thanks for the comment. Endings are tough, and as I'm trying to fix one now, I'll be writing a bit more about it.

February 9, 2010 at 6:03 PM  

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