I promised to share my learnings from the Writing Con I recently went to, so here I am. I had a great time, learned lots about writing through interesting panels and workshops, and I hope to write them all here on my blog. So stay tuned, if you’re interested!
Let’s start first with Endings :p The panel was run by Brenda Clough, A.C. Crispin, Scott Edelman and Bud Sparhawk who explored many things about wrapping up a story, both long and short. Let me go through some that I managed to type onto my Ipad (and let’s hope my memory serves me right for I cannot altogether make out what I typed, ha!)
1) Kill ‘em all.
This was ms. Clough’s suggestion who likes to aim towards an end where ‘everybody dies’. I find this most interesting, since I never do this when I write, in fact I’m an upbeat sort of writer who usually tries my best to keep the light at the end of the tunnel burning. This is because I fear that killing off my major characters will end up disappointing readers. However, my take on ms. Clough’s morbid approach is that it’s actually a means to an end. You don’t have to kill ‘em all, just aim towards it. When you do, you’re essentially putting your characters at risk, even the major ones, and hence upping the tension throughout. Not that books with all tension are necessarily the best, but the point is you want to make your readers care (and perhaps worry) for your characters. If the conflicts, hurdles, lessons, what have you, are considerable enough that they may lose their lives (or at least everything they’ve got), you may just end up making your readers believe that you’re ruthless enough not to play favourites. Having gone through the horrible struggles with your characters, hopefully readers may experience a more powerful sense of gratification, should they escape and win. And if you DO end up killing them, let’s hope everyone’s already prepared for it, and the tragic end will still BE a satisfying one!
2) The best endings are the ones we’re all prepared for.
Yes, twists and turns and surprises are great, but they are much harder to get right or even be satisfying. I am talking about longer works here, because for flash and short fictions, twisty endings probably work best. Now how do we know that the ending we’re aiming towards is what readers are prepared for? The trick is in foreshadowing. If we know where we’re going, we want to leave breadcrumbs and hints everywhere, and like a funnel of a sort, they should all ultimately narrow down to only one possible end to the story. And like peeling an onion, you want to do the revelation slowly, bit by bit, until you get to the core. I like this method. It is not as easy as they all make it, of course, because effective foreshadowing is an art in itself. Now, I talked a little about this with my friend Erika. She’s an incredibly intuitive writer, sometimes she doesn’t even know why she includes various elements in her story until they all fit together in the end. I would love to write like that, to have such instinct to just throw bits of the puzzles in the works and have them fall into place for you. My brain, however, doesn’t work like that. I see my stories in terms of patterns and I need to see the steps before I get there. That’s why I tend to put too many things in a story, most of which I may end up discarding in the editing stage. I imagine someone like Erika would foreshadow in her head before the hints spill into place in her tales, whereas someone like me would end up taking away ‘noise’ until the hints make a leaner roadmap to the ending. Whatever works for you. The point is this method works if you are not out there to surprise your readers and why should you want to? You want to guide them to the end through a path you shape and toil proper.
3) Understanding your story: what is it you want to tell?
Now this seems straight forward, but when you have so many subplots and characters, you may lose sight as to what is the actual STORY you want to tell. Knowing exactly what it is helps a lot in crafting your ending. This wasn’t mentioned in the panel as much, only hinted, but I read somewhere that one way to do this is to try to summarise your book in one sentence or even better, one word: what is it about? (ie self-healing, redemption, balance, what have you). Once you get that, you should have no problem at all deciding what the ending should be, because there should only BE one ending to illustrate what you want to tell.
4) Knowing when to stop: sequels and prequels may require more ‘open’ endings
I’m one of those who… don’t deal well with series but a lot of fantasy books tend to lean on the fat side 😉 But even for sequels, you need to wrap up the first/second/third books so they can still be stand alone. And you need to set expectations early. There’s nothing worse than reading a book and finding out: oh, you need to buy volume two to know what happens :p If you plan for a sequel, you still need to wrap up the major plot points of each book, but you may want to leave some hanging (preferably the less significant ones but cliff-hangy enough to make them want more). I think the trick is to create that connection with the characters or the world or whatever you choose in your story so that readers will care enough to continue. So best to spend some time deciding who gets the last word and what scene/where/how you may want to end that particular book.
5) Touch on all elements: you’ve tied up your major plot points, what about your characters and how their experiences change them?
One of the most common oversights fantasy authors make is to place character development second in importance beneath plot. Sometimes even the character-driven types may fail to sum up on the emotional aspect of the journey. This doesn’t mean you should include some sort of MC’s monologue or introspection in the end, but if you have someone, anyone, describe where they began and how they ended up here, you may create a more emotionally complete ending. Keeping this in mind while you write the ending helps a great deal, even if you don’t specifically lay things out in narration with an “I was lost but now I’m found” :p
There are other things mentioned, but I’ve forgotten (Erika and Lion, feel free to add stuff if you wish :)) Anyway, I think I’ve rambled enough. I hope you find this helpful, as I did, because I’m one of those who always stumble at the end.
Not sure what learning I will share next. What do you want to know?