Are you a writer? Do your big ideas vanish when you see that first glaring, blank page the size of a billboard on your screen? Does it flaunt its obnoxious emptiness in your face? I hear writers say that the beginning, the first sentence, or the first words are the hardest to compose. They start and stop. They delete or erase. They change the wording of the first sentence more than a few times. It is a struggle for them to get the feel and the rhythm of the story. It can feel like a warm up exercise, the stretching before the run.
Some writers love the plotting. They have an ability to take their readers to the brink of the twists and turns right away. They set the reader up for the roller coaster, the surprises they never could have suspected and those word masters waste no time (or chit chat) doing it. Good crime writers, for instance, can have me on edge by the second chapter! And mystery … who doesn’t love the suspense that escalates in a mindboggling mystery novel? Our hearts beat faster. We read faster, don’t we? We think we know what’s next, we read, we think, we read, we are … wrong! We are dumbstruck by the ending. That fabulous finish so expertly calculated; we NEVER would have guessed who done it.
Oh yes, the ending! That place in the story where everything begins to make sense. The doubts begin to lift like the morning fog. It becomes clear why characters made the choices, did the deeds, dropped the ball, did harm or did good, lived or died. Or fell in love. Aha, NOW we know. But wait, we don’t want to just know the pat answers. Nope, we want more. The story has been such a great ride. We don’t want to be let down with a namby-pamby, happily-ever-after ending. We want an ending with some meat to it. Those characters’ lives might go on after we close the book. What happens to the guy who went to prison? What about the couple who fell in love? The cop? The victim’s spouse? What would they want to happen next, if there was a next? As readers don’t we want to be left reflecting? We like the narrative to be powerful enough to stay in our thoughts for a while.
Endings are my nemesis.
I admit it. Endings are hard for me to write. Maybe it is because in life I want everybody (almost) to live happily ever after. I like that first blank page that others dread. For me it is exciting to begin a new story. I love building characters, getting to know them, letting them develop into people who live within my story. As I get to know them and understand why I need them, I write their descriptions in a notebook. (More about that another time.) Of course, because I rule, I can change them, or fire them, if there is a need to. For me, the plot develops itself in a way. I need to have an idea, of course, but then the characters and their individual personalities dig in and away we go.
But darn that ending. When the story is over everyone wants to drift off into the sunset, dusting their hands together, saying “See you later.” I have to learn to snag some of them by the collar. Say, “Wait a minute, you aren’t finished yet. Tell us what you will do when the book is closed, when you get out of jail, when you get married, when you lose another job or have kids. LIFE ISN’T OVER YOU GUYS!”
If I am able to revise the ending to my second novel to the satisfaction of my first novel’s publisher, then it may also have found its place. I worked on it for days and days. I thought about it, dreamed about it and wrote parts of it in the nighttime. I am not complaining. In fact, I enjoyed the challenge and felt like I was learning to be a better writer. I even clicked “send” with a smidgen of confidence. Here’s to endings.