First a little lovely news: Writer to Writer, From Think to Ink (based on this blog, for any of you who don’t know) has been chosen by the discerning people at the Junior Library Guild as one of their selections when it comes out, and both Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus will soon be giving the book lovely reviews. Publisher’s Weekly calls the book “valuable,” and Kirkus says it’s “comprehensive.”

Onto this week’s post. On July 23, 2014, Penelope wrote, I’ve been having a really hard time with my endings. I’m doing a redo of a fairy tale and I’m split on the ending. What I originally had was perfect, I thought. So unbelievably perfect. The element of surprise, the setting, the MC’s heroism, everything. It was a Happily Ever After, for sure. But now I’m realizing that it just won’t do. It makes everything too easy. I’m thinking of changing it only because it ends too quickly and makes everything too simple. 

So here’s my dilemma: Should I mold the story to my satisfying but easy ending? Or should I go with the less appealing alternative which is probably better, but a little anti-climactic?

In reply, Bibliophile suggested, Write both and see which your friends/critique group like better.

I like both parts of Bibliophile’s suggestion. Let’s start with the critique group idea. Some of us are great critics of our own work, but some (me) not so much. We may be too hard on ourselves. Nothing we write is good enough. And some are blind to the flaws in our masterpieces. My guess is that most who read this blog fall into the severe category, because people who think everything they pen is pure gold probably don’t read writing blogs.

So it may be helpful to get another perspective from someone or several someones who can be counted on to be constructive. (We don’t need harsh critics to provide another voice in our heads telling us that what we’ve done is a mess.) If you’re in a critique group, that’s great, and it’s not too much to ask members to read two versions of an ending. After all, you’d do the same for them. You’d be happy to. It’s an interesting dilemma.

If you aren’t in a critique group, you can still get help. A good critic is, first of all, a good reader. You can ask friends who read almost as voraciously as you do, whose taste is similar to yours. You can ask family members who aren’t hyper-critical. You can reach out to a teacher or, especially if you’re home-schooled, a librarian. You can say that you want an opinion about the alternate endings only. If they offer more, you can say no; just that one thing. (If your readers are helpful and you think they may have other things to say that you can use, you can ask for more afterward, but don’t open the floodgates right away.)

If possible, it’s nice to get more than one opinion. If the two agree, that’s pretty solid. If they don’t, you still have fresh perspectives to consider.

But–and this is important–you don’t have to listen to the advice. Just because your critiquers did you a (little) favor, you have no obligation to do what they say. It’s still your story.

On to Bibliophile’s second point, I’m all for trying things more than one way. Writing the ending both ways may make all clear to Penelope, and to all of us when we’re not sure which way to go. And writing both ways may lead us to a third way, which turns out to be the best of all. Or, trying both ways can lead us to a middle ground that satisfies.

In this kind of dilemma, I like to back up and dream up even more than two possibilities. I list all the endings I can think of. Sometimes I run through fairy tale endings and endings of books I love, looking for a key to my story.

I may revisit the problem at the core of my story to help find the ending that fits best. Let’s do this with a couple of examples.

First, we’ll take “Rapunzel,” a fairy tale with, in my opinion, an imperfect ending. Aside from the mystery of why the witch wants a child in the first place, I’m on board with the story almost until the end. The prince is thrown from the tower and Rapunzel is sent far away; that’s fine, just what this witch would do. But then the witch seems to forget about both of them. Rapunzel is reunited with her prince and cures his blindness, and they live happily ever after. Their troubles are over. But the problem at the heart of the story is the witch! The ending should include her, and she doesn’t want Rapunzel or the prince to be happy. She wouldn’t stand by and let them be. According to Wikipedia, there’s a version in which she’s trapped forever in the tower where Rapunzel was imprisoned. Better. But there are other options as well. She could grow and become a better being, or she could be distracted by another baby for her to adopt and behave weirdly to. Or something else. The best ending, I think, would involve Rapunzel and the prince settling matters with the witch: destroying or reforming or distracting her.

Now let’s look at Anne of Green Gables, which, to me, has a perfect ending. *Spoiler Alert!* If you haven’t read Anne of Green Gables and intend to (I recommend you do!), skip this paragraph because I’m going to give the ending away. As I see it, the central problem is that Anne needs a home where she feels at home, an outer home and an inner home. At the beginning she doesn’t feel loved or understood, and she isn’t at ease with herself. By the end she gives up something up that’s important to her, and she does so because she’s achieved self-knowledge and a deep sense of belonging. It feels inevitable. Any other response to Matthew’s death would be wrong.

When Penelope says that her first ending is surprising, I’d call that a plus. We want inevitability and surprise at the same time. Of course, not all surprises are good. Dropping a bomb on our characters may be tempting, but it’s never good. Likewise, bringing in a fairy to solve everybody’s problems.

Inevitability arrives when we solve the main problem. Surprise comes in through the way it’s solved. In a romance, for example, we know that the lovers will be united if the story is happy or separated if it’s tragic. But we don’t know how the two will come together or how they’ll be torn apart. To take another fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast,” as an example, what seems inevitable as we first encounter the story is that Beauty will finally agree to marry Beast. The surprise is the transformation that follows. So satisfying!

Here are three prompts:

• Write a new surprising ending for “Beauty and the Beast.” Yes, there’s a transformation, but it isn’t the one we’re used to.

• Write a Rapunzel story and weave the witch into the ending.

• The ending of “Rumplestiltskin” is problematic. We’re left with a loveless marriage and a dead imp. I know there are versions that fix this. Write your own. In this case, consider what the problem at the heart of the story is. I don’t think that’s so clear. Could be the imp who desperately wants a child for reasons fair or foul, or an impoverished king, or a neglected girl, whose feelings nobody cares about.

• One of the twelve dancing princes is in love with one of the princesses, a love that’s outside the enchantment he’s under. Write the story of their romance. Think of five possible endings and write at least two of them.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. I'm amused at your prompts, because I just wrote a retelling of Beauty and the Beast! (Now it's editing time.) It's so much fun to dig into the heart of an old story like that and reinterpret it. 🙂

  2. Thank you so much, Mrs. Levine!!! I think that, yes, I might come to an agreement between the endings, or probably think up a better one, as you suggested. I'll have to mull it over a bit . . . And my sister is the perfect age for critiquing my WIP, so I won't have a problem with an audience.
    It's so funny you mentioned Rapunzel, because that's the exact story I'm working off of!!! Of course, I've gotten off the beaten track quite a bit since I've started, but the basic idea is still there. 🙂

  3. The NaNoWriMo Blog's latest post involves retellings as well! What a coincidence. Here's the link if you want to see:

    I always thought a retelling of Rumplestiltskin would be cool. I thought he could be a teen. Stilt maybe. Maybe his and the miller girl's family have a long lasting history of hate, and somehow he wants to quietly avenge his fam by killing the firstborn of the millers…and kill the prince at the same time.

  4. Okay, this here is a REALLY strange, WAY off topic question, but I shall ask it anyways. It concerns dwarves. How does one deal with dwarves? In one of my story I have both dwarves and halflings, both of which are short. I'm curious about how human would interact with dwarves…respectfully. How would you be in conversation with them? I mean, it seems as if it would be rude to look down at someone for too long, and yet, crouching down to their height would probably offend them. (I think they are proud and perhaps a bit haughty. Also very reserved, sometimes bad tempered, but jolly enough when they are among friends.) So how does one talk with a dwarf? How does one eat with a dwarf, travel with a dwarf, etc. How? Any thoughts on this subject will be immensely helpful. Thanks.

  5. If the dwarves were really annoyed when people looked down at them when they spoke, I could see them wearing stilts, or lifts to make themselves taller. Also, I could see malicious twisted dwarves cutting the legs of taller beings off just so that they were at their level… Other things could be having indented seating for tall guests, or requiring them to kneel before them when they speak (But that would only make sense if the dwarves were the ruling race, at least the kneeling thing). But if dwarves are subservient, then it wouldn't matter how the taller people interacted with them. As for halflings, and I assume you mean dwarf hybrids, then generally speaking, half anythings are normally treated as second class in most books I've read. Therefore, the way they were treated wouldn't matter. This is all just my opinion, but I hope that it gives you some ideas.

    • Hah! You practically read my mind. Actually, the dwarves are fairly courteous, but when they are in battle they do actually go for their legs, because it's hard to fight when your legs have just been chopped off. Also, the dwarves and halflings are in the company of The Ranger's Daughter. She tries to give the halfling's tips on fighting, and ends up screaming things like "GET 'EM IN THE KNEES! BRING THEM DOWN TO YOUR LEVEL!!!!!!!!!" hysterically. Plus, The Ranger's Daughter's dad is, duh, a ranger, and a friend to many different races, including elves, giants, dwarves, halflings…etc. So I've decided he has special chairs and his table is made so that it gives the optical illusion that everyone is the same size. And I guess The Ranger's Daughter could casually sit down whenever speaking to "his mastership the dwarf". Or stand at a distance where it wouldn't seem as if she was looking down on them, and yet close enough to be polite. Thanks for your suggestions! I really like the one about kneeling humans, that would work if they are in the dwarf king's hall.

  6. I have a problem…in my story, for reasons that would take way too long to go into, one of my MCs, a princess, needs to hate another. The trouble is, the Princess is essentially a nice person, and so is the guy she needs to hate. He's half elvish, which is reason enough for most people to be mean to him, but she isn't like that. I guess my question is, how do I do that without making either of them hate-able to the reader?

    • Gossip mongers are wonderful misinformers… Also makes us feel bad for them both because they are both trying to mend each other's image of the other. Oh, they awkward situations and sharp dialogue that could occur!

    • Have someone tease the princess saying something like "Ooh, you love the half-elf, don't you?" Trust me, NOTHING kills a relationship faster than being accused of being in love with a person you don't actually like in such a fashion, even if you think they are descent people (or better yet, if you dislike them slightly), you sort of go out of your way to prove you don't really love them…and can end up being kinda mean (esp. if you didn't like them much to begin with).

  7. Another off-topic question: (Also, wow. Despite always reading it, I haven't commented on the blog for months. Hi everyone!)
    I'm on the fifth draft of my novel (oh the joy of calling my work a novel!) and I think I've lost my way. Originally the story was simple–boy likes girls, boy writes anonymous letters to girl, girl gets in trouble because of boy, girl hates boy, boy saves girl. Okay, so maybe not that simple, but now it's really complicated. Their are multiple perspectives, half a dozen more important characters, and another subplot. With all this extra stuff, the stuff that made up my first draft now only takes up a quarter of the novel. Part of me thinks that all the extra characters, subplots, points-of-view, and stuff should all go, but the other part of me really really really likes all the characters I've added.

    So do I cut out all the stuff in an attempt to recapture the orginal magic of my story? Or do I leave it all in and re-write the story from scratch for the third time and embrace the new magic of my story? Any suggestions?

  8. Quick q for those who know about children stories
    I have a class I'm supposed to write a 500-1,000 word story for and mine is 1,115 long after I've gone through and cut about 300. It's really an illustration class so it might not matter a ton, but it would be good for me and the teacher might be strict about it being over. Is 1,000 a real maximum for picture books or is that more like a guideline? Any tips for fine tuning when everything left seems vital to the story or character development?

  9. I am in an excessively queer predicament. I desire a solution for my dilemma. How doth a being stop writing in a certain fashion once said being has been writing in said fashion for a sufficient amount of time? I have been writing a character who's speech mannerisms are quite…elaborate. And now that I have been narrating this character for a lengthy period of time, my OWN speech mannerisms have begun to correspond with his and I am at a loss as to how to halt this process of writing like an elderly English professor. All my other characters are beginning to speak similarly to Eugene (aka Frillytongue, aka Stiltedspeech, aka Tongue-of-All-Knowledge), the character that started all this nonsense, and it is distressing. I require immediate aid!

    • Read Hunger Games, that book has such a simplistic use of language that it would shock your system into normalcy. And take a break from writing,even if it's just dialogue, for a week or so.

  10. Bibliophile, thanks, I've never read The Hunger Games, but I found a book called "Savvy", which was pretty good for simplistic, and now I'm much better (or not, I almost wrote "my writing style has improved exceedingly. Whatevs). But I'm doing slightly better. My next question is really quick. I need some epic-sounding words. I have this coalition in one of my stories that I was going to call "the spell-bound", but for various reasons, this is no longer practical. So I need to call it something else. I thought maybe "the shadow-bound" because it sound cool, but…I'm not sure. Does anyone ave any suggestions. Epic-sounding words that could go with "bound" some way, because the members of the group are literally bound together with magic. Thanks.

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