I don’t fear the beginning but I approach the end of a novel with the dread of one heading for their destination and now knowing if they’ll recognise it when they get there. And in fact that’s exactly what it’s like. I get to the end of the story…I think. But maybe I haven’t.
It’s bothering me particularly at the moment because I have a novel in draft and I can’t end it. After all the stresses to which I’ve subjected my hero and heroine in the course of the book we conclude with a dramatic scene in which all is revealed and they can live happily ever after.
Except they can’t because the denouement which bring them together causes problems elsewhere. Love may conquer all but it doesn’t do so at a stroke and by resolving the problems between themselves they create others with their families (yes, it’s set in Italy and there’s a nod to Romeo and Juliet, so a quick acknowledgement to William Shakespeare here). They have each other but what happens then?
In reality these things reverberate for years. He’s chosen her over his family but is there a rapprochement, forgiveness? If there isn’t, how will he cope with the isolation? If they choose love and poverty how will they cope when there isn’t enough money for what they want and need?
My good and wise friend Jenny advises that a satisfying ending should rest on resolution, which I interpret (with some relief) as meaning that we don’t have to tie off every single end of the story, especially not those which will take time to sort out. It’s most important to solve the big problems and we can leave the little ones as long as they are resolvable. But equally we cannot leave too many questions unanswered.
I’ve read a few books which take you past the point of resolution (and I’ve written a few as well).
In romance, there’s a requirement that the couple end up together, even if they’re only happy in the short term rather than for ever. But how to do it? You can only walk off into the sunset so many times.
In all my time of writing I’ve only ever been satisfied with two endings for novels. Neither has been published (though one will be out next year). My usual approach is to write it all and then chop off the bit where two years down the line they get an anniversary card from her mother or whatever it might be. But any other tips and hints for knowing when the story’s over will be gratefully received!