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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

Loose Ends

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Endings (Part 2).

What is it that actually ends?

Everything in a story has it's own arc.  Each character, each plot line, each relationship.  Writing a novel is like climbing a mountain and everything you put into the book is like a rock into your backpack.  The more you put in, the heavier the pack gets, and the longer the climb.  And the weight we're talking about is all the stuff you have to do as a writer by the end. Everything has to be resolved in some way by the last page, even if it's with an explicit lack of resolution.  If something is built up and not dealt with by the end than what's left is as unsatisfying for the reader as the proverbial gun on the wall in Act One that never goes off.  Readers want to know how things work out, and if you raise up something and put it in your backpack as a writer, they're putting in their backpacks as readers.  To leave them hanging is churlish.

And so we're looking for an ending that answers all our questions.  I know, I know you don't want to answer everything.  Sometimes when it's pat it's too damn pat.  But even if you don't have the answer, you just can't ignore the question.  An ending that leaves things open is fine, as long as it does it explicitly, not by simple omission.  A reader shouldn't be wondering if the author just forgot about the thing that was keeping her turning the pages.  That's cheating.  Which makes endings harder and harder as you go along and your backpack get's heavier and heavier.  How do you end so many things at once?

Damn good question.

Leave them hanging in the middle, not the end.


Blogger Unknown said...

I could read an entire blog on endings from ya, William! I especially like that last line. I have such a hard time with my endings on things. I tend to throw too many little details that sound important that arent into things and then tear my hair out at the end.

The first time I had someone read one of my books I was amazed at how they picked up on one little thing that I'd never noticed before and were outraged when it never got resolved.

February 25, 2010 at 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a writer who just finished my first novel, this post comes at the right time. Letting the novel cool, and yet still thinking about it, I know there are a couple items that need resolution when I finally return to revise. It's like you need a separate notebook with a list of the issues (the rocks in your backpack, as you describe it) so that you don't forget to leave anything undone at the final period.

March 4, 2010 at 9:26 AM  

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