I lied to some good people recently. I asked them to beta read my next book and told them it was complete. But it wasn’t. In fact, it was missing its final five chapters, a section for which I coined a new term: the ending. Why the deceit, you ask? Because endings are hard, and you may not know how a story will end until you’ve been through it a few times.
I’m a big fan of the cliffhanger. I call it the shock and the silence. I think it’s one of the most effective ways to manipulate the reader’s emotions. Show them something that changes everything, then turn out the lights. Let their imagination fill in the rest. What they produce in their heads will be much more personal than anything you could have come up with.
Through much trial and error, I have learned that while cliffhangers are enormously effective at the end of chapters, they are less so at the end of books. If I had it my way, Veneer would have ended with Deron Bishop turning the world white. I like a sudden stop in my stories, but I hate it when I see it in other books or movies. It’s a complaint I share with many, many of my readers.
For the past few days, I’ve been writing the final chapters for Brigham Plaza, and the task has put me in a foul mood. On the surface, you wouldn’t think anything was amiss. The planning is going well, the scenes are flowing, and the chapters I’m producing are fine (as far as zero drafts go), so why the mental fatigue? Why the unbreakable introspection? Why the sudden limp in my left leg?
The answer is pretty simple: endings are not my thing. Over the years, I’ve developed methods for tackling every stage of a novel’s production, but I’ve yet to crack the code for endings. How do you return characters to their normal lives after so much has changed? How can you give them a definitive ending without preventing the reader from imagining their future?
Because endings are not my thing, I find the work of writing them to be difficult and taxing. It takes a lot of brainpower–brainpower that I don’t have. I find myself sitting and staring for long periods at a time, zoning out in traffic, and getting so lost in thought that my son is able to leave the room without me noticing. Next thing you know, I’m pulling an iPad out of the toilet because Lulu and Bailey needed to potty.
It’s fitting that the work is coming along so well while I fall headfirst into a zombie-like state. There is no art without suffering, as no one says. It’s at this stage that the fantasy of being a full-time writer becomes even more desirable. And it’s not about freedom from office life, from the 9 to 5 grind or the managers with coffee breath… it’s about time.
Time to sit and focus on the story. Time to do the thing you love, the thing you are compelled to do.
Every day, I wake up with the thought I want to finish this story.
Every day, my schedule and responsibilities say the same thing:
It is now 4:45 a.m. You have one hour.