I spent today writing the closing scenes of the fourth and last book in a series (writing as Joss Stirling). Any final scene in a book is difficult, but it is particularly challenging to tie up all the ends and give enough payback to the reader when you are also looking to round off a longer sequence.
What do you think makes a good ending? Do leave a comment at the *end* – it might just give me some hints!
The series is question started with a YA book called STRUCK, which won Romantic Novel of the Year 2015, so it is a hard act to follow by the time I get to SCORCHED via STUNG and SHAKEN. Each book is a different form of detective story. The first (STRUCK) is the country house kind (in my case I set it in a boarding school). The second (STUNG) is a chase plot (think Jason Bourne movie). The third (SHAKEN, out in April) is a kind of James Bond spy in a foreign land tale. And the final one (SCORCHED) is about a prison break where you aren’t sure of the loyalties of the lead female character. Writing the ending, I wasn’t convinced I was getting it right, then suddenly (at four in the morning actually), I had an idea that seems to me to get the balance spot on, concluding the plot elements of this books as well as rounding off the stories accumulated over the series. Phew! I just hope my editor agrees.
So while I wait for her verdict, what can I learn from other endings?
- You can do too many for a start. The clearest example in recent times is The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The film version, otherwise critically acclaimed, was mocked for the multiple moments when you thought that was it – when the ring goes in the fire, when Frodo wakes up, when Aragorn gets crowned, when everyone bows to the hobbits, when they get home to the pub, when they go to the ships, and when Sam finally gets home. Funnily enough, I don’t think this is a problem in the novel as the pace requirements are different there and a slow decompression from the events of the war of the ring seems fitting. Tolkien is making a serious point about how those that sacrifice themselves are often not the ones who live to benefit.
- Another thing I’ve learned is that we aren’t writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A novelist then would often do a long ‘this is what happens next’. Jane Austen is fairly brief and witty (as in so much else) when she concludes Pride and Prejudice (though personally *gets out editorial blue pencil* I would like more of the Elizabeth/Darcy second proposal scene). Dickens often dramatises his in an epilogue spoken by the main character from a future point looking back (David Copperfield) or by the narrator/author. George Eliot is philosophical, drawing lessons from her characters’ fate (Middlemarch). I wonder what my publisher would think if I took a similar strategy in one book? I think they’d be making comments such as ‘too much’, ‘stop waffling’, ‘leave that for the sequel’ or ‘show not tell’. Times and fashions change.
- To cliff hang or not to cliff hang? That is my third question. Sometimes I absolutely hate it when I get to, say, end of part 1 in a series and discover that the story is not complete and you have to read part 2 (and 3 and so on). If this catches me in the wrong mood, I am SO angry, I don’t bother. There are very good books out there that have fallen foul of this strop on my part. I have only twice cliff-hung (is that a word? Probably not but you know what I mean) a book in my career to date, once at the urging of the publisher, the other because it fitted the genre and I thought the rest of the story was sufficiently complete to make it intriguing rather than annoying. I suppose that is up to you, though, as the reader. On the whole I’m a ‘not to cliff hang’ writer.
There is much more to say on this subject – I haven’t come to the end! – but perhaps that can be the subject of my next post. In the meantime, I’m going to be collecting favourite endings so do please send me yours.
And as for my favourite ending, there are many. Right now, what comes to mind is (*plot spoiler*) Frankenstein where the creature runs off into the Arctic wastes. I liked it so much I had to write the continuation as I imagined it in Mel Foster and the Demon Butler. Meet the creature’s daughter, Eve.