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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

The Big Ending

Monday, March 1, 2010

Endings (Part 3)


I've been getting a lot of good feedback on my post on endings, there's a lot of interest in learning how to finish up, so I'll keep writing about endings for a bit, see if I can milk this monkey dry.

The best ending I ever read was in the novel WATERLAND by Graham Swift.  It still gives me chills.  It's one of those novels with a present mystery and a past mystery, but it is also a story of young love, and a story of a failing marriage, a story of friendship and sexual awakening, and a history of the British Fens.  Just a brilliant book.  And at the end, as all the mysteries ripen, there is a moment when a boy dives into the sea and there, in that singular and beautifully described moment, everything is solved.  It's magical, and Swift is simply one of the best writers going.

That seems to be the gold standard, the single moment that ends all the plot lines and seals all the arcs with a lovely simplicity.  In BITTER TRUTH I tried to emulate that in a way, using a letter written by a dying WWI vet, that was discovered at the end of the novel, to solve a number of mysteries, including the key mystery that arose in the present day.  I often think when going for the singular moment, smaller is better.

What happens all too often, however, is the big battle is substituted for the single moment.  William Gibson, who writes terrific futuristic novels, created cyberpunk, and wrote one of my favorite all time books NUEROMANCER, always seems to end his novels with big battles that solve everything.  I love his books, but you can feel him churning to the big ending as more and more arcs are ignited.  He ends up with so much going on, the only way to the end the thing is the big battle, an event that sometimes seems more a device for getting him out from under the book than something that rises organically from the story.

I think you need to be careful if you keep packing your book with plot lines and character arcs and just hope that the big bash at the end will solve everything.  Let the final confrontation solve the big things, sure, but start your endings earlier, have the big bash, and then resolve some things later.  The story might end up feeling less managed and more satisfying.

Make sure after the big splash you don't have the big sink.

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