Whenever I’m writing a novel, I never know how it’s going to end. Part of the fun of writing is to let the characters tell their own story. I think that endings should come about organically. So, why was it that I was having such a difficult time writing my own ending to River of the Stick Wavers?
I had done character studies, researched the location where my story was to take place, and the time period; I even researched the history of the area. And I got really lucky that a friend of mine has a cottage in the French River area (where my novel takes place) and I was able to find out about a little known myth that was integral to the story line. I knew their motivations, and what my characters wanted. And yet I still didn’t know how my novel was going to come to its “glorious” conclusion.
Days went by as I stared at the computer screen to no avail. There was time spent searching for the mechanics of endings on-line which seemed to suggest that a big surprise ending is what is needed if people are going to continue reading future books. At this point I went back to my novel to see if there was already a “big” moment that I could utilize for the climactic scene. There was, but if I used that moment it would have disrupted the narrative I had in mind. I even attempted three different endings to see how each would feel. Two of the endings involved a death. While that would make for an unexpected ending (one of the suggestions I read about) it would be like the cavalry coming to the rescue at the end of a movie. Yet the third possible ending, a confrontation, didn’t seem right because it just wasn’t in the nature of my protagonist to face the embodiment of her fears in such a direct way. She just wouldn’t do that.
It was at this time that I decided to have a conversation with my son, Simon. He has read my novel and offered suggestions throughout, so he knew who the characters were and what they were about. He has always been of the thinking that my protagonist didn’t need to have a confrontation with her antagonist. He believes that real life isn’t neat and tidy so it shouldn’t be in books.
What is important is for the main character to have changed by the time we reach the end of the story. Well, she did change. Every scene, every person met, every new discovery, every new adventure, led to the ultimate choice that would change her life from that moment on. It was a small thing, and yet it was huge in terms of the courage it would take to live out her choice.
Suddenly the fog lifted and I realized that I already had an ending for my novel. In fact I had planned the ending long ago. I was so hung up on a confrontational scene that I missed what was right before my eyes.
So, what did I learn from all this? It is true that endings are organic. If you’re having trouble writing your own ending, go back and see if there is a natural ending already there staring you in the face. Or perhaps there is some clue that would point you towards an ending. I think it is also important to trust your characters to show you the way. If a scene isn’t working after a certain amount of time, you need to let it go because your characters won’t be manipulated for the sake of the story. You also need to trust yourself. Just because someone else said that stories must end in a certain way, doesn’t mean that you can’t come up with a satisfying conclusion that is unique to you and honor your character’s true nature .
My ending wasn’t a big moment, but it came about in an unusual way. It was true to my character and to the story line. It also brought a lot of key elements to a head so that all the key scenes would coalesce in a single moment of enlightenment.
The unexpected ending is expected and plays into a common convention. My ending came about organically, and that surprised even me.