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.]
Tweets that mention Jim C. Hines » Endings -- Topsy.com
July 28, 2010 @ 10:28 am
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by gabrielle_h, Lisa Shearin. Lisa Shearin said: Yet another great post! RT @jimchines New Post: Endings http://bit.ly/bHhttN […]
July 28, 2010 @ 10:50 am
Well I know destroying the universe at the end of the books does not always work… just look at the work of Douglas Adams. 🙂
What do I actually look for in an ending? That is hard to say, there are so many style. Mostly I think of the things I do not want.
I agree that an ending where nothing has changed is wrong. I have finished more than one book lately where I felt my time had been wasted due to an ending like that. If your character had super powers for a weekend then just showed up for work on Monday like nothing happened I would at least like to know what their mental disorder is with a DSM code.
I also do not want a series never to end. There are plenty of stories I feel could have gone on forever, but at some point it just becomes old. Either the premise gets stretched thin, the plot wanders off, or you have to ignore previous work just to keep things going. Like the TV show 24, at some point you have to wonder why people are not jumping out of windows at the sight of the main character. After all considering the things that happen around him you are probably just saving time.
Above all I do not want to see a final chapter wrap-up of all the plot lines. Three books of 300 pages where the main character is collecting an army, marching to a battle, creating interpersonal conflicts, to wrap up in a 20 page chapter… it would be like James Bond shooting the villain before he can reveal his evil plot or show off his evil lair… it’s just not quite right.
I trust your ending for the princess books will be great. I know the Goblin series ended well (even as people ask for more stories there). So I imagine while we will be left wanting more stories, we won’t feel that it should have just been a few pages longer. 🙂
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2010 @ 11:05 am
Heck, Douglas Adams died, and even that didn’t put an end to the series!
I’m curious about the final chapter wrap-up you mentioned. Am I reading you right that you’re saying if you spend so much time building up to a conflict, you need to take some time to resolve it as well. You can just spend the whole time building tension and then “Voila, all done.” (The novel Dracula does that, and it really threw me off. Wait, that’s it? You mean we’re done now? Really?)
July 28, 2010 @ 11:18 am
Beat you, Jim…!
I will be handing in the final book to my third trilogy on Sunday – complete with editors suggested adjustments – for copy editing.
How do I feel? Enormous relief. Like a huge weight has suddenly vanished and I am about to float away if I don’t hold on to something…
…and I bet I will have started on the next brand new series with a week. We’re all mad.
Aliette de Bodard
July 28, 2010 @ 3:01 pm
Thanks for the mention of my blog post!
I turned in the synopsis for the third book of my trilogy, and I agree they’re hard to get hard right (we’ll see if what I came up with works. Not entirely confident on this, as it’s the first time I do this). Wrapping up all the plot threads is a major headache–as is being open enough for sequels while still achieving a sense of finality.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2010 @ 4:05 pm
Congrats! It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it?
And yep. The relief is great for a day. Two days, and I get twitchy. Three days, and I’d better be writing *something* 🙂
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2010 @ 4:07 pm
You’re welcome. It was a very thought-inspiring post, and well-timed!
I had to e-mail my editor a few months back to let her know my story had diverged significantly from the synopsis. She said she trusted me to write the story, but I’m still nervous what she’s going to say.
This is my second series. Maybe I’ll feel confident when I do it a third time 🙂
July 28, 2010 @ 5:07 pm
“… there is no end. There’s only the point where you stopped writing.” That’s exactly right.
Congratulations on finishing your draft.
Jim C. Hines
July 28, 2010 @ 6:02 pm
And of course, it does make a difference *where* you stop 🙂
July 28, 2010 @ 7:22 pm
No kidding! Just imagine how different the ending of “Inception” would have been if they’d stopped it about 5 seconds earlier than they did (and we never zoomed in on a certain object that shall remain unnamed in case you haven’t seen the film yet), or worse, continued for another 2 or 3 seconds and thereby answered that last question one way or the other definitively. @_@ I love that kind of ambiguous ending (Sword of the Stranger–another fantastic one for that), but it really only works for certain types of stories.
For a fantasy epic, I kind of like the way LotR ended–all the important questions have been answered and closed off, and what’s left is just regular life again, which is a little melancholic but (if you’ve done all the crazy epicness of the final conflict right), a relief. And despite returning to regular life, I don’t think it was a “back to the status quo” ending like the ones you mentioned, since Samwise is obviously completely and utterly changed by his experiences. But you get the sense that his life will go on peacefully if not momentously. So there is forward movement/a way into the future with that ending, but we didn’t necessarily need to “watch” any further to get. I hope that’s the kind of ending I’ll be able to do with my fantasy series (when it eventually gets written *cough*).
But for yours, especially since you’re debunking the myth of perfection from the princess fairy tales, I think it’s especially important not to have a fully happy and tied off ending (though I hope it’ll still be at least mostly happy, if at a more realistic rather than “fairytale rapturous” level). In any case, knowing you, I’m sure you’re going to strike the perfect balance of satisfying/tied-off and melancholic/in-limbo. Good luck and congrats on finishing, Jim!
July 28, 2010 @ 10:41 pm
Think jig and the thong song at talia and snows wedding…..just spitballing some ideas there…….he could show up in his delorean time vehicle.
Seriously you ever read “Ship of Fools”, you want an ending with more questions than answers…but sometimes an author feels as though they want to make you think, the what if, the what will happen next…encourage your thoughts to make up conclusions. We all do it to certain stories. It is not that they could not end the book/series, but they want you, the reader, to formulate thoughts in your own mind…That is the great thing about writing….there are no rules.
But the good thing about endings is you can resolve almost everything , but leave enough open for a spinoff or new book if you ever want to go back to the world you created.
July 28, 2010 @ 11:22 pm
Jim, I have never stuck to my synopsis yet. I’ve never told my editor about the change beforehand either (I’m obviously a whole lot sneakier than you are), I just hand it in. And she’s never questioned the ending I wrote – probably because she’s long since forgotten the original synopsis anyway…
And no, trilogies are no easier third time around. Believe me.
SF Signal: SF Tidbits for 7/29/10
July 29, 2010 @ 2:10 am
[…] Blood and Chrome, Coming Soon. ArticlesCheryl Morgan on A Genre Like Any Other.Jim C. Hines on Endings.SFWA on 5 Resources on the Public Domain.Christopher L. Dinkins & Jeremy L. C. Jones on Those […]
Jim C. Hines
July 29, 2010 @ 8:27 am
“Think jig and the thong song at talia and snows wedding…”
You do this purely because you enjoy breaking my brain, don’t you.
Jim C. Hines
July 29, 2010 @ 8:29 am
This is the first time I’ve talked to her about a change I was making, but it’s also the first time I’ve made a change this significant.
“And no, trilogies are no easier third time around. Believe me.”
Sigh. Maybe if I make the next series a duology…
July 29, 2010 @ 6:31 pm
Congrats Jim on finishing that draft. I wish you luck with the whole series. I agree with a lot of what you said. I’m just finishing the last book in my series. It’s both a happy and sad occassion. Happy, because it will free me up to go and work on other projects that have been festering in my head, but sad because I have to say goodbye to my characters. Whilst I feel like I have told their stories, I also know them intimately. It’s like saying goodbye to old friends.
That said, I have no desire to write more and more books in the same universe. Best to leave these characters while I still like them 😉
July 29, 2010 @ 8:08 pm
admit you laughed…….
Jim C. Hines
July 30, 2010 @ 9:46 am
Thanks, Stuart! For the author, there are just so many mixed feelings, aren’t there? Happy to be finished several years worth of work, sad to be letting go of the world and the characters, excited (and scared) about starting something new… Congrats on wrapping up your own series!
Jim C. Hines
July 30, 2010 @ 9:48 am
Haven’t seen Inception yet, so I can’t speak to that, but enough people have talked about it that I’ll probably try to get out and see it. (I have a guess how it ends, just based on things people have alluded to online, though.)
I though the way Tolkien ended LotR was interesting, and worked. It’s not so much back to status quo as it shows life goes on, albeit with changes, after the adventure ends. Since LotR was simultaneously about big, epic battles and small, individual stories, Sam’s return worked to bring closure to the individual, if that makes sense?