The End is Near (Just Kidding – No it’s Not)
Hello Swoon Readers!
So this week I want to talk to you about the end. Not THE END – of all time or things. We won’t get philosophical or depressing here (today), but the end of the story you’re writing. It can be difficult to find an end to whatever your art form may be – just ask second grade me who just could not stop adding glitter to her painting of flowers. I think we can all agree, like a good loaf of bread, it’s important to let go of the dough and not over work it. But, by all accounts, that’s tough – especially in writing (probably less so in baking).
Of course, finding the actual ending of your story is a challenge – much like figuring out the first words and working out the plot. You’re ultimately making the decision to stop the adventure of the character you’ve created. It can feel heartless at times. Are you really going to leave your audience with unanswered questions about the future? Let’s face it, you have to. You can’t possibly answer every question that will ever come up about your characters. Even if you do the flash forward to their domesticated lives some way down the line (*cough* Harry Potter *cough*), your reader is still going to have questions and wonder what happened. If you ask me, this is how it should be. As a reader you want to care enough about the characters to want to know more.
Some authors might leave you infuriatingly unsatisfied or mystified by the ending and lack of answers (which is certainly one approach). Others may offer you the (dreaded) fast forward (I can’t pinpoint a single example of this that I truly enjoyed, Harry Potter included, sorry). Sometimes you get just the right amount of optimism, hope and belief that it’s all going to work out. But it can be a difficult balance to find – since often the optimism and hope can come off as schlocky and a bit too Happily Ever After to ring true.
But as any writer, professional or amateur, will tell you, finding your ending is really just the beginning, because you always – ALWAYS – have to go back over your story for a reread. For published authors there can be any number of rounds of edits before it makes its way to the reader. And before it even gets to your editor, a lot of authors spend their time writing and critiquing with other writers, because feedback is important. And while it would be nice to exist in a vacuum where you could type up the perfect manuscript all by yourself, inevitably something that sounds hilarious in your head may not actually sound hilarious when read by another person. You might finish your manuscript and think “done!” but sorry, you’re not. We see a lot of manuscripts here at the Swoon Reads headquarters, and there are many that would benefit from one good reread, and also a good out loud read to a friend. Sometimes that extra insight is what takes your manuscript from okay to great. Friends, editors and enemies alike will all offer helpful (and sometimes not helpful) information – and it’s your job as a writer to go back and make tweaks, fix something that doesn’t sit right, or that sounds clunky when read out loud. It’s the burden of an artist giving their work to the public.
I had a moment of revelation at a museum looking at an artist’s sketches and seeing how much the concept changed from beginning idea to the final product. It’s sort of heartening to know that evolution part of the artistic process. It can be a challenge to take criticism and open yourself up to the idea that someone else might have a very valid point about your characters. I was talking to an editor here just the other day who was saying, in the fourth round of edits, she and the author decided to change a detail in the middle of the book because it just wasn’t sitting right with either of them. Fourth round! And that’s not a crazy number of rounds. I personally can’t go back over something I’ve written (including a blog post) and not want to change something – a preposition, substitute a different word in, move a comma (for which I am convinced no laws exists, only general theories) something.
Here’s the thing, putting your work, be it a manuscript, blog post, or painting, whatever, into the world takes an unbelievable amount of courage. You’re putting a little (or sometimes larger) size of yourself out there, for the world to see, and as we all know, the world is not always warm and welcoming, so you (or at least I) want it to be perfect – or as close to perfection as my mere-mortal self can manage. And sure, there’s a line, or really a deadline. You have to just commit, you have to trust at some point that it’s good enough. There’s a chance that nothing will ever be absolutely perfect and you should press the submit button, or give your editor the okay to go sign and let the work leave you as it is. But usually you have to reread before you get there. So that’s the moral of today’s post – be brave and show your work to the world, but reread and share it before it’s finished, edit. Just be sure to stop yourself before you get to the point where you’re adding the 400th layer of purple glitter to that painting of flowers you did.