The end of the novel. You’ve lived with the thing for years. Eaten, slept, cavorted, contrived with it. You have put everything of yourself into it – your energy, emotions, intellect. You have a closer relationship with these characters of your imagination than you do with your real-life friends and family. And then it’s over. You are caught in a great yawning silence. What to do?
Talk. Fill the vacuum with words. And so, this blog.
Every writer has an opinion about which part of writing a novel, or a poem or short story or any piece of writing for that matter, is fraught with the greatest danger. To begin, to begin, some say. Putting that first incredible word down on paper. The key that will open your trunk of wonders. It’s scary. But the saving grace here is that it doesn’t have to be the right word. At the beginning you can say anything because you can and will go back and change it. In fact, it is only when you write the end that you can go back and write the beginning that your novel demands.
But at this point you don’t have to worry about it. You can let yourself be lifted by the excitement of a beginning, full of hope and promise, open to all possibilities.
As you continue, in art as in love, the enthusiasm fades. Uncertainty enters the scene. The possibilities dwindle. You encounter a failure of energy for the project. Certain things happen that make change, and thus freedom, difficult. You get fenced in. You might feel entirely blocked. Of course, there’s always divorce. You might decide to scrap the project. But then you’ve wasted your time. Besides, you still want to write this novel.
The middle is crucial. If your novel is going to get bogged down, this is likely where it will happen. In other people’s work, you can pinpoint the place where the writer either became bored or confused, because this is the point where you, the reader, become bored or confused. The writer might try to keep it going by repetition, having another murder, escalating the body and blood count, introducing a startling turn – the heroine turns out to be an alien or the hero turns out to be the heroine’s brother. The whole thing can get quite silly. This is the place where a novel can become unbelievable.
What to do? Call it mid-life crisis and go out and buy a motorcycle? i.e., abandon the mess and take up with a new lover? Create chaos? Keep plodding doggedly ahead? Start a new unrelated chapter, which you will eventually have to connect, but not now? Your choice, only know that this is the place where, rather than keeping the same pace, the intensity has to be elevated. You must come up with something that will give you and your book the burst of energy to plow through.
If you can manage all this, your reward is that you have to face the end.
The first word that comes to mind for the end is Stop! Like a seasoned professional, bring the project in on time. Remember what you’re writing, maybe a contemporary human drama, maybe a thriller, probably not an epic, and follow the rules. After the plot climax, you are allowed a short denouement, then take a bow. Think of Hitchcock who, if anything, cut his endings a little too short, but better to leave the party while people are still laughing at your jokes.
In the end, there is really only one ending for your novel. The right one, the one that comes out of the book. Even writers of thrillers who spring a surprise on the last page have to follow this rule. Otherwise, the word ‘contrived’ comes into play. You might resist. No, no, you say. I can’t let that person die, he’s my favourite character. No matter, kill him off if your novel demands it. Let the bad guy win. Whatever. Be ruthless in these matters. Demonstrate the sliver of ice that has to be at the heart of a writer.
Speaking of icy slivers, next comes publishing. But we’ll leave that for next time.