How do you finish a novel?
I’ve never been good at finishing stories. In fifth grade I wrote my first chaptered story. It was 14 handwritten pages long, but I wasn’t very happy with it. I wrote it again, and that time it was about 40 handwritten pages. I wrote the story several more times after that, and each version had a different ending. I couldn’t find one that I was happy with. In eighth grade I rewrote it as a 94 page screenplay, and I still wasn’t happy with the ending – I just went with the one that would be easiest to film with the resources I had available to me at the time.
I was also in fifth grade when I wrote my first fan fiction story. It was called “Voldemort Comes to the Quidditch Match” and was about, surprisingly enough, Lord Voldemort coming to a Quidditch match and trying to kill Harry Potter. It was supposed to be a short story about said Quidditch match and ended up being over a hundred pages long. I have no idea where the story went from there, as I no longer have a copy of the story, but I know that it kept going because I had no idea how to end it.
In ninth grade I tried my hand at fan fiction again. This time, I had a perfect ending in mind. It was still a Harry Potter story, and it was five chapters long. I was so happy when I finished it. Then I got a lot of reviews from people claiming that they hated the ending. No one liked it. Every review said that it was a disappointment, so I tried again. It went from 5 chapters to 28, and I still had problems ending it.
I’ve written a lot of fan fiction since then. As such, I thought that I would be better at ending stories by now. I thought I was having such problems with my current works becuase of the stories themselves, but now I’m forced to sit back and realize that I’m just bad at writing endings. I rewrote my senior thesis in college at least four times before I managed to find an ending that both my advisor and I could live with. I’ve reached the end of Learning to Lie twice now, and I’m still not happy with the way it’s ended.
And now here I am, 92,000 words into my second draft of Tilt Your Head and Smile, and I keep dragging my feet. I had five chapters left of my outline to write, but I kept finding more scenes to add. Did they actually work well with the story? Yes, I think they did. But the point remains that I keep trying to find ways to stall having to write the ending because I don’t really know how I want this to end. I had a plan before – she decides to go to grad school and try to become a teacher – but now I’m not so sure. Going back to school doesn’t guarantee anything, and it seems sort of like a cop-out to me when I’m writing a story about a young woman trying to find herself after college.
I’m still going to write that ending because it’s the best choice I have right now, but I’m still having issues writing it. How do you all finish novels? Do you have an ending in mind first? Do you make it up as you go? Are you writing and then suddenly realize that you’ve hit a good stopping point?