Endings have a way of sneaking up on you
I just finished the first draft of my second novel, Trespass Strike. It’s been a few years in the making, in part because the subject matter is sensitive and I’ve been trying something stylistically that was a bit of a balancing act. And I had a concern about length. It was too short, a novella, which can be a challenge to sell. But the story wanted that length. Then my challenge was finding an ending.
This novel is a story of recovery from personal tragedy (not mine, it is fiction). If you’ve been through this kind of experience you know there is seldom a neat ending, a day when you wake up and have moved on. There is no murder to solve, no cliffhanger terrorist chase scene. No one lives happily ever after, at least not like a prince and princess riding into the sunset (or a prince and prince). I’m afraid it is more like the messiness of real life.
On top of this my character interrupted the story and came in to offer her perspective from twenty years later, after the events at the beginning of the story. She was quite insistent and I had no choice but to follow her lead. These kinds of occurrences are exactly why I write fiction, and she is (I can’t refer to her as a construct, her voice is too familiar now!) a pretty compelling talker. It is, after all, her story, not mine. But she kept talking.
So, I was beginning to wonder where this was going. Was I indulging her/me because I enjoyed the exchange? How do I end this thing? And then yesterday, there it was. I’d written it and not even recognized an ending. Fortunately, this had also happened with my first novel. One day I finished a paragraph and said, shit, I think that is the ending. It’s a weird feeling to realize something you’ve lived with for months or years has ended.
I feel mixed about ending this thing. I did the first time too. Writing long form fiction is an immersive experience that goes on for longer than many creative projects. I think an analog might be producing and directing a feature film or recording a record lp, except that it is just you and the work. I have been involved in multiple recording projects and they often end the same way, with a little ennui and some lingering dissatisfaction. But, here’s the thing: you have to end it.
I recently read a piece by a writer who can’t end things. She took five years to write the first draft of her novel, rewriting and changing the entire plot multiple times in the process. I have news for her. The first finished draft was a completed novel. The rewrites are supposed to be fine tuning. She doesn’t have a book project, she has a hobby. Cruel? I suppose, but stories require an audience to come alive, and without ending them and getting them out there, that won’t happen.
How did I know yesterday that I’d ended it? I periodically read the entire thing from front to back while writing, not often, every couple of months, to get the bigger picture of where I stand. I don’t do this often because for me it keeps me in the weeds if I’m thinking too much about the whole thing. Yesterday I completed a read-through and realized my character was done. She had tied it up and moved on.
Creating something entirely from your imagination is, I believe, a uniquely human thing. You start with a blank slate, screen, or notebook page, and start weaving something. It is so immersive that endings can be a kind of blow. There is a little grieving process. I felt it this morning when I couldn’t go back and have another session with Nella, my character. So it goes, to quote Mr. Vonnegut. So it goes.
And now a break and then the rewrite/edit/reader input phases. Not quite done yet.