Assuming nobody interrupts my lunch break today, I should be able to finish up the third draft of The Snow Queen’s Shadow. Not the final draft, mind you. I’ve made plenty of notes about things I have to go back and fix. But I’m hopeful that draft #4 will be the one that gets sent to my agent and editor.
This is the second time I’ve wrapped up a series. You’d think it should get easier. Much like each new book you write should be easier than the last, because you’re getting better, right? Yet it seems to work the other way around. The more skilled you become as a writer, the more ambitious you get, and the more aware you are of the flaws.
From the start, endings and the lie of happily ever after have been a central theme of the princess series. I’m not saying people can’t be happy, but the idea of endings … unless you destroy the universe on the last page of your book, there is no end. There’s only the point where you stopped writing.
Usually that point should bring closure to the conflicts of the book. But if everything is wrapped up too neatly, it ruins the suspension of disbelief, at least for me. Life is messy. Solving one problem often leads to others. So when I end a book or a series, I want to make sure I convey a sense that these characters and their stories will continue — even if I’m no longer writing them.
I also look for change. If everyone and everything is the same at the end as they were in the beginning, what’s the point? Sure, the journey might have been fun, but a story where the status quo never changes? No thank you.
And of course, the author has to follow through on his/her promises. For example, I introduced an unresolved romantic relationship in Stepsister Scheme. I have to go somewhere with that tension. Likewise, there are other character conflicts I’ve been planting and need to resolve … one way or another.
I don’t believe an author’s job is to make all the readers happy. In part because there’s just no way to do it. I know some readers really want to see those two characters end up together; other readers have said they don’t want that. One way or another, some people will not get the ending they were hoping for.
For the past year, I’ve been searching for the ending that feels true. Some things have changed a lot from my initial outline; others haven’t. Some plotlines I had hoped to include were cut because they just didn’t fit. And don’t get me started on trying to decide who lives and who dies…
I’ve got a lot of work left, but I’m getting there. For the most part, this ending feels right. It feels honest. It answers questions … but not all of them 🙂 It provides closure, but also points toward a future (and leaves me something to work with if I someday decide to return to this series). It is — I hope — powerful without being manipulative.[1. Deus ex machina endings fall into the manipulative category for me, as do most “It was all a dream” endings.]
Is it perfect? Probably not. But I’m proud of what I’ve written, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
Discussion welcome, as always. What do you look for in an ending? What are the best (or worst) endings you’ve read? What makes it work?[2. Also, see Aliette de Bodard’s SF Novelists post on cultural expectations of what makes a good ending and a good story in general.]