The End of the Road

On September 17, 2021, Christie V Powell wrote, Does anyone else struggle with writing the very end of a story? I’m fine if it’s a series and there are more books coming, but if I’m writing the end of a standalone or the end of a series, I have a really hard time focusing on the last chapter or so (the tail end of the climax and the resolution stuff). My brain has already written off this story as done and wants to move on to something new and interesting. I struggled on this with my standalone Mira’s Griffin, and some reviewers picked up on it. Now I’m facing the same problem with the end of my DreamRovers series. Any tips for staying focused on the story through the end?

I wrote this at the time: Here’s a thought: Your story is over for you, but it will still be clinging to your readers. What do you think they’ll want that will make them sigh with contentment?

Every book I write is Mount Everest. I want to scale it: figure it out, write it, revise in ecstasy, and depart to scout out my next mountain. I always want the current one to be DONE! For some reason, Ella Enchanted was the worst. So I’m with you.

If I remember right, Brandon Sanderson said that the problem of wanting to move on is worst in outliners. I’m only fractionally an outliner, but I still feel it. There may not be a solution; we may just have to endure. That said, I have some thoughts.

I just reread the final chapter of one of my childhood favorites, Anne of Green Gables. **Spoilers alert! Spoilers in italics. (If you’ve never read Anne, it’s a marvelous classic for kids.)** The beginning of the chapter, when Anne and the reader learn that Marilla (Anne’s adoptive mother) is in danger of losing her eyesight, and then Anne’s decision in response to the news had me crying–today, at age seventy-four. Not much further on, though, I perked up as romance rears its pretty head, and, shortly thereafter, the books ends. End of spoiler. As a child reader, I remembered the sadness, but I was delighted by the promise of love to come and that’s what stayed with me.

I also refreshed my memory of the ending of my other favorite, Peter Pan, but I didn’t reread it because I disliked it when I was little, and I still do. Ending aside, if you’ve never read Peter Pan, I recommend it highly—another kid-lit classic. **Spoilers alert!**  I think the novel ends tragically. If you’ve read it and remember, do you agree? Adults are set up in Peter Pan as dull and stodgy, utterly unlike their much livelier childhood selves, and yet Wendy, her brothers, and the Lost Boys choose that fate. Peter doesn’t, but he winds up tragically isolated, which he covers with bravado. Lover of romance that I am and was, I was angry with Barrie for ruining the ending of an almost perfect book.

If we’re writing to tell ourselves a story, we can ask ourselves what we want in the ending. What will satisfy us or the child reader who still lives inside us? Then the question becomes how we can provide it.

If we know who reads our stories, we can consider what will please them. What do they come to us for? Aside from our MC, which character interests them most? Can we fold that character into our ending? Will they want an epilogue to wrap everything up?

What will be fun for us to write? In Sparrows in the Wind (coming out in October), I threw something I didn’t need into the ending because I wanted it for my MC.

Most important, naturally, is that the ending solves the problem of the book, one way or another. As I see it, in a character-driven book, like Anne of Green Gables, which is a coming-of-age story, the problem belongs to the MC, in this case to Anne’s becoming a secure, well-rounded person. In a character-driven tragedy, like Hamlet, the problem is a character flaw, and the eponymous hero fails to solve it. In a plot-driven adventure, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the problem is the salvation of Middle Earth.

So the seeds of the ending are sown into the beginning, the problem that’s the reason for the story. The ending has to speak to that problem. I’m sure Christie V Powell’s stories do, but if our stories don’t, the ending will be hard to write.

I think this is the reason that the ending of Peter Pan fails, that it’s a book (I love) without a clear problem. There are problems. The Darlings, Wendy’s and her brothers’ parents, are heartbroken about the disappearance of their children (though they don’t try to find them). Captain Hook has a crocodile on his trail. But these problems aren’t the book’s problem. That Peter isn’t seriously connected to anyone might be the problem if he saw it that way. For most of the story, Wendy and her brothers are having a fine time and aren’t thinking about going home. Wendy plays at being an adult, and that pleases her. Near the end, Peter, in anger, frightens her into believing her parents have forgotten her and then there’s suspense about their getting away. But they do, and the Darlings are delighted to see them, and they grow into ordinary, boring adults.

So, these are ideas to consider when we write our endings:

  • Include what we look for in an ending.
  • If we know what our readers want, include those elements in our ending.
  • Give ourselves a gift and put in, if our story will accommodate it, something that’s fun to write.
  • Think about our ending—that our story will have to end—when we decide on its major problem.

Here are three prompts:

  • Write a version of Hamlet that focuses on the ghost story element. Keep it a tragedy or give it a happy ending.
  • Write a version of Peter Pan in which Peter realizes how alone and lonely he is, and that’s the problem of the story.
  • There’s no problem in “Sleeping Beauty.” Sure, the princess is going to sleep for a hundred years, but nothing will be changed when she wakes up, except there will be a nice prince kissing her in a sweet, non-creepy way. Give her a problem and write the story.

Have fun and save what you write!

  1. Thanks!
    My usual solution is just to write really long series so I don’t have to deal with the problem, but that might be cheating.
    I loved the last prompt. I’m working on a Sleeping Beauty retelling right now, where the main character gained a forbidden ability to travel through dreams (and meets the sleeper that way). So her problems are finding acceptance for people with this ability, and defeating a nasty villain who wants the dreamrovers and non-rovers to finish each other off.

  2. I agree that Peter Pan ends tragically. However, I love the ending — I think it’s perfect for the story. None of the characters get what they want, and none of their lives end perfectly, but in many ways they all get what they need.

    Wendy loved Neverland and Peter, but she also couldn’t accept them for what they were. She was constantly trying to change them to fit her ideas about families and society. She grows up and lives that life, while also learning a valuable lesson about the important role wildness and imagination have in life.

    Peter is lonely and selfish. He doesn’t end up with Wendy, but he gets all of her descendants to come visit him, and he learns to care about other people. Also, I think if Peter hadn’t lost Wendy he might have never realized just how much he cared about her and he might not have learned to truly love other people at all.

    All of the characters live the rest of their lives with regrets, but they also learn and grow from their mistakes. If they hadn’t made those choices they never would have grown emotionally and learned to see beyond their own strict worldviews.

    I don’t entirely liked how the Lost Boys’ storyline ended, though. They lived with regrets but didn’t seem to learn much or grow from them. They just decided that childhood was better and were semi-miserable for the rest of their lives. I think Barrie could have done that better. Maybe they could have changed their opinion about adulthood and still kept some of their childhood perspectives with them.

  3. ReaderandWriter says:

    This is a great post!!!! I’m writing a fantasy/adventure story right now but it doesn’t have a villain. Does my book need a villain?
    (Here’s a quick overview of the story if anyone needs it to answer my question!)
    Basically, my MC gets stuck on an island and wants to get home. My MC and a wizard travel across the island in search of the port so that the MC can get back home. During their journey they encounter natural obstacles such as starvation, wild animals, etc.

    • I would personally say no villain needed! You don’t necessarily need a “character vs. character” conflict when you have “character vs. nature” conflict. Ms. Levine does have a category on conflict if you want to read into that further.

    • All stories need an antagonist, but not all stories need a villain. The terms are often used as synonyms (as “protagonist” and “hero” are), but they’re technically different things. “Antagonist” means “against the action” and refers to whatever is stopping your MC from reaching their plot goal. If a story doesn’t have an antagonist, there’s no conflict, and therefore no story. A villain is a sentient, evil antagonist where either they are actively trying to defeat the MC or the MC is actively trying to defeat them.
      Which is a long-winded way of saying that so long as SOMETHING is keeping your MC from getting what they want until the very end of the story, you’re fine.

  4. @Christie V. Powell,
    I just finished the Seventh Clan and loved it, but I was wondering what font you used for your name on the front. I thought both the book and the font were very majestic. I can’t want to read the next on about Lilac!

    @Gail Carson Levine,
    I’m a 12 year old girl from mid Florida, and nearly done with the first draft of my WIP, and I was wondering whether or not I could contact her or him when the time comes.
    The only problem is that I don’t know how to contact her/him, so I would need you to put some way of contacting her/him on the blog. I know you would have to ask her/him first, and that they may not be okay with their information on the internet.

    • Thanks! My name and the book title are both in bu Oscar Diggs. It’s my favorite font. Although now that I’m looking at it, I’m not sure why the “V” in the title looks different than the “V” in my name, when it’s the same font.
      My original plan was to publish Lilac’s story in October, but I got way behind this summer, so that might push my publishing schedule back. Either way it should be before the end of the year. This is one reason I love self-publising, because it’s so much faster.

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