Endings and beginnings are the hardest things to write, with the exception of middles.
I know you saw right through that. It’s all hard. But I’m at the point now where I’m reaching the end of a novel I’ve worked on for years, something I really care about and have great hopes for. (And yes, I know I’m hanging some prepositions out there and I don’t care because it’s Sunday and I just got back from a trip to the Sequoias and was in a van with a hyperactive 8-year-old for nine hours. So back off on the criticism of my dangling parts of speech.) (I apologize for that outburst. I’m still kind of drunk off pine cones and white water rivers.)
Back to my point. I am nearing the end of my story, and as I near it, I ponder the idea of “the end.” How do we know when we arrive at our destination as writers? When we were hiking in the Sequoias, I kept going and going on the trails, never really certain where my destination was, but I walked until I felt that I had walked enough. Then I went back to my point of origin, which is exactly what I’m doing with my novel. I’ve gone back to the beginning, and as usual, it needs to be recast because the end informs the beginning.
When the end arrives in a story, I am often surprised by it; I know it’s coming, but not exactly how it’s coming, or what it will look (or read) like. When I write a sentence and there is a finality, a resonance, I know in my gut that I’m finished. But writing, like hiking, is often a circular pursuit, and the end brings you back to the start again, and the start is altered because of where you’ve been. You see it differently in context. The adventures along the path to the end gave you knowledge and experience that you use to recast the beginning.
In writing, it’s like you take the same path again (editing the story) but now you have more information, more insight, extra experiences that offer a prismatic effect to what you’ve already written. Much will stay the same, but some things will change because of this new knowledge and experience. Armed with information and a deeper knowledge of character, you rest, then hit the trail again armed with either a red pen (for writing) or a can of bug spray (for hiking). You’re more aware of obstacles, flaws, and the richness of the journey.
Characters transform on this journey from beginning to end also (or so we hope.) Making the change true for the characters is critical to the success of the story, so revisiting the beginning and seeing the middle through the lens of the end can lead to new insights and depth. Relationships change and deepen as the story flows, and going back to plant the seeds of what will be can only be done once the destination is clear.
I stayed in a place called the Sequoia River Dance, a bed and breakfast with an absolutely stunning whitewater river running in its backyard. Over a glass of wine at sunset, I contemplated my story, and how much it was like a river or a trail, and how the obstacles and the white water made both the river and the story exciting, challenging, and magnificent. Without those unexpected twists and turns, the course of the river and story would be plain and unexciting. The pleasure of seeing them and trying to navigate them make the story and the trip worth pursuing.
Any thoughts on endings?