Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The End

No, not the end of my blog, or even the end of the book that I'm working on. Instead, I'm writing about how it happens, that all-important, make-it-or-break-it novel ending. Yesterday Lauren asked: Whenever you write, at what point in the writing process do you know the way your story will end? Before you begin writing? After your first draft?

It's a great question, and yet it's one of those inquiries that is very hard to answer...

When I started writing After the Leaves Fall, I had no idea where the book was going, much less how it was going to end. The story literally unfolded chapter by chapter, until Julia's final step seemed inevitable. It was a really fun way to write because I felt like I was uncovering the tale much like a reader would--through a slow process of discovery.

Summer Snow was different because I knew that there were two possible endings. The only problem was, I didn't know which one it should be. I was incredibly conflicted, and struggled with the outcome until I wrote the final chapters. I'm happy with the choice I made--and I think that it's true to Julia's character--but some readers were disappointed that Julia decided to do what she did. She's been called "selfish" and "immature," but I believe, heart and soul, that she made the choice that was right for her.

And just wait until you read the third installment of Julia's story! It's another surprise ending (and another two-pronged dilemma), and I'm sure some readers will love it and others will think Julia has made another mistake. But I think that's half the fun. Oh, and FYI, I'm nearly done with this book and I'm still wondering how it will all turn out!

Okay, so it seems like I fly by the seat of my pants when I write. But I said this is a hard question to answer... and it is because when it came to The Moment Between, I knew the ending before I wrote the first sentence. How backwards is that? I'm not sure why I wrote that book differently, but I can say that the whole thing unfolded in my mind in a single night. And it was by far my most complicated plot, involving a three-tiered narrative and an interwoven timeline. Go figure.

Sorry I can't leave you with a pat, easy answer, but I think that stories reveal themselves in a myriad of different ways. Some people will try to tell you that you need to know where you're going if you want to write a book, and though I see the wisdom in that (for query reasons, and submissions to publishers, agents, etc.), I don't believe that you have to have everything figured out. It's an adventure, and it should be.

Your turn: Do stories come gift-wrapped (and complete!) to you? Or do you have to seek out answers like clues on a scavenger hunt?


  1. Usually a writing comes to mind as a seed for me--some seeds I intuitively know how to nurture, what words to use--they flower beyond what I would have thought at the beginning. Others, I mishandle and they rot. I often feel like all of the seeds are good, it just matters how I handle them in getting the thought on paper!

  2. Perfect metaphor, Susan. You could really expand on this small seed. ;)

  3. The story that I'd like to finally write already has an ending. If it works out how I want, it would be two books--and I know just where the first and second book ends. Other stories I have written didn't have a planned ending. In high school, one of our assignments in Creative Writing was to write a "short short", a 3 page story. I made up the ending on the spot and was surprised at how weird it came out. My teacher read it aloud in class and everyone gave me a strange look, like 'How can the nice girl in class write this?'. I thought it was pretty funny, actually. Though I want to change the ending now (five years later!), it was fun to see how writing in the moment can help you find new ways to work a story and discover things about yourself.
    P.S. I love the seed metaphor as well! Perfect way to describe it.

  4. I am captivated by and seek out books that are complicated and take unpredictable routes or that do not have cookie cutter characters (hey that's an illiteration!)
    I'm not so much into science fiction or mysteries, but I like richly woven human interest stories that explore relationships.

    That's why I love your books and why I am so looking forward to Julia's continuing story.
    I think that people are looking for hope and redemption and your stories offer that disguised in a highly entertaining read!

  5. I'm with you, Brandi. Writing in the moment is soooo fun. I learned something totally unexpected about Julia the other day!

    avgirl, all I can say is: you're a honey. Thanks for making me smile! :)

  6. Thanks for answering my question! :D

  7. I had no idea you were going to continue Julia's story. This literally just made my day!!! I cannot wait for them to come out!

  8. I'm so glad to hear that, Brittany! My husband and kids are gone for the night so I can work on the final stretch of story... I'm really excited about it. :) Should be hitting bookstores early next year!