I flip to the end of every book I read and I read the last page before I read the first page. When I was seven, I threatened to read the last line of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows out loud to my mom while we were in line to buy it at Target the day it was published. My mom nearly killed me and we cleared the book section at Target faster than you can blink.
I can’t resist - even though I often spoil things for myself or wonder what the heck kind of a cliff-hanger that was, I’m a sucker for knowing how things end.
I’m terrible at writing endings in my own novels. I’m working on one right now, and the ending is starting to feel like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Will my characters live happily ever after? It’s too soon to say.
A scholar once said that if you read an academic paper out loud to yourself and don’t feel like dropping the mic at the end, the ending isn’t strong enough. I think that’s a brilliant way to approach all writing, not just academic papers. I’ve read 37 novels so far this year, and more than half of them have had endings that made me legitimately holler. But, as I said, I’ve never been very good at endings myself, whether for my books or for academic papers. Maybe part of the reason is that my brain always wants more. More for these characters, more for this world, more for - well, okay, maybe not more for the Psych 101 paper about Stockholm Syndrome. But you get my point.
I always want more for my characters. The first full-length novel I ever wrote, Exile, ended up being over 900 pages long because, at the point where the book would logically conclude, I wasn’t done with my characters. It felt right for them to get married, have a baby, and watch her grow up. They needed to grow old together. And, to be honest, I was in a rut when it came to coming up with new content. That first novel won’t be the first book I publish. I knew that when I started writing it. It’s about a rape survivor. It’s dark and ambitious, and I don’t know how many people will actually want to read it. Perhaps, one day, I’ll be surprised.
Right now I have no idea how my current novel is going to end. It’s less than six months into writing, so I know I have plenty of time to fret over it as the rest of the book comes together. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have a mic drop ending because it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done and I’m truly proud of it. It is a reflection of a season of my life that I am grateful to be in because Exile was a different season. I started writing Exile in March of 2020, mostly because the pandemic had shut everything down, and I finally had time to do something with the ideas swirling in my head and in the notes section of my phone. I was depressed and lonely for the entirety of my time with Exile and it shows (we were in a pandemic after all). My hope is that, in a few years, I’ll be able to look at it with fresh, not-so-sad eyes, and make revisions until it is a book worthy of the effort I put into it.
Endings are beautiful and horrible. When they’re good, they leave me wanting more. When they’re bad, I still want to reach through the pages and beg the author for more from their characters, more from their world. I rarely meet a book I don’t finish, and I have about a hundred books on my shelf waiting to be read while I constantly buy more. It’s a sickness, but at least it’s not drugs, Mom!
I’ll write a separate post on different ways to end your novel - how to leave your readers - and agents - wanting more from you. But for now, I’ll leave you with this quote from Frank Herbert that I think about when I don’t want to end my story because my characters aren’t done being characters yet: “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”