In Search of an Ending

My mum (who is in our bubble) has been staying with us for a few days and this is what I’ve been doing: watching Tipping Point, Pointless, Only Connect and University Challenge, playing Scrabble and Rummikub, sweating/sweltering (because we have to have the heat on ‘hellfire hot’) and making endless cups of tea.

It’s been quite nice – like a little holiday – but now, it’s back to work, at least until Christmas, when everything will stop again.

I saw this quote today and it made me feel a little calmer about my lack of writing: “Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist.” Jane Smiley.


As we approach the end of 2020 (thank God, we all say), I’ve been thinking about ‘endings’ – novel endings – because, at the moment, the ending of my novel-in-progress is no good. In fact, I have more than one ending that’s no good (sub-plots and all that).

The ending is perhaps the most important part of a novel. The ending IS the story, as a clever person told me once. It’s what gives meaning to everything that comes before and it’s the final impression you’ll leave on your reader. (Eeek, no pressure then).

Endings are difficult, aren’t they? (Hemingway rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms “39 times, before I was satisfied.”)

Think of all those stories and novels you’ve read that have been let down by a poor ending. I can’t give any examples because it will spoil any books you haven’t already read but I can think of quite a few.

Although it’s annoyed/upset me at the time, I do actually now have sympathy for authors who kill off characters (sometimes even main characters!) because it’s one of the options for ending your book and it can make the ending both emotional and memorable.

Of course, the ending of your novel will, to a certain extent, be dictated by the genre in which you’re writing: if it’s a crime, mystery or thriller, the reader will be expecting a resolution, revelations and for the baddies to be ‘brought to book’; if you’re writing romance, the reader usually expects the lovers to get together and declare their feelings (although sometimes, they don’t. I can think of a few bittersweet endings of recent films and novels in which one of the pair dies, or they don’t end up together, after all).

The ending must leave the reader feeling satisfied with what’s happened to the characters but it mustn’t be too predictable. There still needs to be an element of surprise.

A film director – can’t remember who – once said, “Give your audience the ending they want but not in the way they expect” and that, I think, applies to novels too.

And there needs to be tension. Will the villain be defeated? Will the lovers get together? That ‘black moment’, near the end, when it looks as though all the problems facing your heroes are insurmountable, makes the happy ending, when it finally arrives, all the sweeter and more satisfying for the reader.

Hmm, simples, as they say. Now I just have to do it. (And if anyone has any tips on writing a good ending, please share!)

New Word:
I learned a new word this week. Do you practice librocubicularism? I do, I’m a very keen librocubicularist. (It’s a fancy word for someone who reads in bed!). Mind you, I never seem to manage to read more than about two pages before I fall asleep….

The Spectator has an interesting little writing competition running until 6th January 2021, if you fancy a challenge. Here it is (and shhh, don’t tell him, but I’ve bought my OH Shuggie Bain for Christmas).

No. 3181: nay sayers
This year’s Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain was turned down by 32 publishers. You are invited to submit a publisher’s rejection letter of a well-known literary classic. Please email entries of up to 150 words to by midday on 6 January.

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6 Responses to In Search of an Ending

  1. Sounds like you’ve had a fun week Helen and perhaps filled your creative well too with your games of scrabble, binge watching TV and having your mum there too.

    Now you’ve got to knuckle down and sort this ending out. Mmm, it needs to be a logical appropriate conclusion, endings that come out of the blue are not well accepted by readers.
    Depending on what your genre is, will to some degree influence your ending too. In a romance we are expecting the lovers to get together and run off into the sunset. Where as other genres may lend themselves to a different sort of ending. Perhaps your hero gets away with something, disappears into the night, lives to see another day…Oh the possibilities are endless!

    The main character has to have changed, grown or got something by the end of the story.
    Think about the message you’re trying to convey, what’s at the heart of your story? Could you use the message in your last scene?

    Ooer, it’s a tricky one…best get on with it and get it put to bed. You can do it!

    All the best with it.

    • Thanks Maria, all good advice! I think I have thought of a way through it – or at least part of it – and it will make for a much better ending than the one I’ve got now, which isn’t that believable. The ending has to come from the characters, doesn’t it – what they would or wouldn’t do? And I think my original ending didn’t suit the male character. Now that I know him better, I know what he would do at the end – and it’s not what I originally had down!!

  2. juliathorley says:

    Plenty of food for thought here, as always. When I was a student, I ofen used to write the conclusion to my essays first, so that I knew where I was going, but the same can’t be said of my story-writing. In case we don’t ‘speak’ before the festivities begun, I wish you and yours comfort and joy!

    • Thanks, Julia, the same to you. I’m hoping to squeeze in one more post before Christmas, but who knows…?! Funnily enough I think my subconscious was working overtime on this problem last night (the problem of endings, not whether I’ll post again before Christmas!) and I do seem to have unravelled part of the sticky mess I was in, so that’s good news!

  3. pennywrite says:

    Two – slightly odd – thoughts came to mind! One was that, like Julia, I often know or even write down endings first. At least then, even if they later change, you have something to work towards. And two: for some reason, rather than a sunset,, for me the moon (full, crescent, gibbous or with an Evening Star nearby…) often figures in a final scene!
    All I can really say for sure is when you find your ending, you will surely know it as the right one 🙂

    Wishing you a peaceful and happy Christmas!

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