Reaching the end of your story

So you’ve had your awesome novel idea, you’ve built it up and have a great story going.

The next difficult bit can be following it right through to the end without getting distracted by your next fantastic flash of inspiration. For me, it’s the awful 20,000 word mark. The idea is no longer a shiny new object, but I don’t yet know my characters well enough to be compelled to write their story.

Here are some things I’ve learned about completing a novel.

  1. It takes discipline. Physically writing takes time. You need to dedicate time to finishing and the only person who can make that happen is you. Reconnect with your process – know and respect the things you need to write: space, time, support people, and so on.
  2. There are push points and they’re awful. You feel like you’ve lost your way. You start rewriting chapters or the whole thing. You hate it. You want to give up. You can’t work out how to go forward. You’re stuck. But you have to get through them and you can get through them. Here’s how I do it:
  • Keep writing throughout the push point, knowing you can edit and fix the mistakes later
  • Re-read the bit you’ve written to remind you of where you’re going.
  • Take a couple of weeks’ break: do some writing exercises to get yourself feeling more confident again.
  • Put your pantser pants away and plot
  • Create a story timeline
  • Complete character worksheets to be sure you understand their motivations and arcs
  • Map out what must happen before the next major plot point
  • Talk it through with a trusted person
  • Come back to your tools: mind-map or develop a narrative train
  • Ask the hard questions and answer honestly: would my character really do this? Is this essential to the overall plot?

In order to finish, you need to understand where your story is going. Being a pantser is all well and good, but by the time you’re a good way through, you should have at least a hazy idea of what your character is going to end up being, or how the events in the story will finish. I love this quote from Doctorow:

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

E.L. Doctorow

You don’t have to have a light on every section of the story but you need to have an idea of the final destination and trust the process to get you there.

How do you know when it should end?

Things have gotten exciting and you’ve written the climax, the characters are getting their happy endings or their come-uppance – they’ve grown and changed, and the end is nigh!

If you’re anything like me, you’ll start procrastinating. It’s like when you go out and think you’ve left the stove on. I keep thinking there’s a loose end I haven’t tied up or a character arc I haven’t completely concluded, so I keep writing, or I make endless cups of tea delaying the finish.

So how do you bite the bullet and wind things up?

  • Here’s a secret. The project ends when you decide it ends. Obviously you don’t want to stop mid-sentence or mid-scene, but if you decide you’ve told the full story, then you have. You’re the author. The end tends to sneak up on you. Sometimes I think I am about to finish my novel and it doesn’t happen for three days. Sometimes I think I’m three days off and I’m suddenly there.
  • Just because you’ve finished the story doesn’t mean it should already be perfect. Now is your chance to go back and make it coherent. Draw all the strings together, make all roads lead to Rome, make sure your character arc and plot arc marry, etc.
  • Just end it already! Thinks of a poignant scene that will show the readers how far your characters have come and that will do. You can play with it during edits – but the edits can’t start in earnest until the story has ended.

Have you got any interesting stories about finding the end of your story? Let me know.

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