Welcome to another week of Inception to Completion, a series geared toward getting you through the novel-writing process from beginning to end. Thus far, the series has covered outlining, tackling that first chapter, overcoming bumps along the way, and the importance of taking breaks and self-care when you start to feel overwhelmed. Hopefully, this advice has helped you through the freak-outs and burnouts that all authors experience in the writing process.
After days, weeks, months, or years, you will finally approach the climax of your story. This is the moment all the elements or your plot and character development have been building toward. This part of novel-writing is extremely exciting … and equally terrifying. What if you get the ending wrong? It won’t matter if the rest of your story is great if the end is unsatisfying.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help make your climax and resolution turn out just as great as the rest of your story.
Read Everything Over
Some will tell you never to look back as you write, and to keep chugging forward until you reach the end. There is some validity to this advice—a lot of writers have a real tendency to get caught up in editing as they go.
But as you approach the climax of your story, it can be very helpful to take a trip back to the beginning. Odds are it will have been long enough since you’ve looked at those first pages that you hardly even remember them. This is a huge advantage since it will give you the ability to see your writing more as a reader than as an author. I would encourage you to hold onto that feeling as you read through what you’ve written thus far. Ignore your emotional attachment to superfluous scenes and allow yourself to notice the contrivances and lack of character development that would be obvious in any book not written by yourself.
This process will help you to make sure that the foundation your climax is going to stand on is a sturdy one. You don’t necessarily have to make any changes at this point, but you should at least make a rough outline of how you plan to restructure, and then write your climax and resolution as though you have already made these changes.
I know that with every manuscript I’ve ever written, I’ve had to take a step back from them when I only had four or five chapters left to write. I know it’s so tempting to keep rushing forward when the finish line is so close that you can practically taste it. But I can say from experience that it will benefit your novel greatly if you take a week or two to pause and reflect.
Now that you’ve read everything over, this break will give you a chance to think about your story in a big-picture sort of way. You can question anything and everything about your story, making sure all the pieces fit. With my most recent manuscript, this time away helped me realize that I wanted to change my ending completely and make several structural changes to the rest of the book. I am very thankful that I realized this before putting a bunch of work into the unsatisfying ending I’d previously had in mind.
You may have noticed that I have been big on taking pauses and breaks throughout this series. Remember that writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Counterintuitive though it may seem, some distance can often be what you need to see your story more clearly.
Don’t Sweat It
I have mentioned before that pieces of your story are likely to change by the time the novel’s finished, and your ending is no exception. I got lucky with my first novel, Viable. While several other aspects of the novel changed substantially, the published book still has almost exactly the same climax and resolution that it had at the end of my first draft. So naturally, I expected my next novel to go the same way.
Unfortunately for me, Vita and the Monsters of Moorhouse did not go the same way at all. It was full of hurdles that I hadn’t encountered in Viable, and I constantly found myself having to change direction with it. By the time I got to the end, I didn’t manage to tie any of the strings of the plot together or give my characters satisfying arcs. It was only through years of brainstorming, editing, and advice from my friends, critique partner, and editor that I managed to smooth everything out. The ending in the published version of the book is completely different from the one I started out with.
So don’t worry too much. Yes, you should try to do the best you can with your ending. The less you have to change later on, the better. But it’s okay if everything doesn’t tie up neatly with a bow yet. You’ll have plenty of time to figure all that out once you edit—which is coincidentally what we’ll be discussing next week!