As we’ve previously discussed first drafts are not fixed, they can constantly in flux as you learn more about your characters and your story. The same is true of endings, you might have an idea of your ending when you begin your story but this may also change as you progress. In many ways the ending of a novel is like trying to predict any future, it changes based on knowledge and choices.
An example of this might be if you were writing a story about saving someone and in the original idea of your ending the protagonist storms in guns blazing and saves the day. However, as you develop the character through the first draft you might discover that they are sneakier than you thought and would actually find a quiet way in and get passed the villain’s henchmen. This change doesn’t matter because trying to force an ending because it will jar the reader and be unsatisfying and possibly not incline them to read any of your future work.
These developments can be problematic when people try to stick precisely to a plan, which is where it helps to be flexible in your writing. When it comes to endings it can be helpful to look at your plan as a guideline, if you plan which doesn’t always work for everyone. The problem with endings can be that as much detail as you work out in a plan you don’t always know precisely how your characters will behave once you put them in motion and find out more about them. For example in my Weekly Serial, Victorian Mistress, I didn’t know what would happen when Charlotte caught Griffin Callahan until I wrote it and it seemed like the right ending for that subplot. Had I not spent time pondering around with Charlotte in drafts and offcuts I’m not sure I would’ve written their meeting the same way. Time invested in digressing from my plan actually helped me write the ending of a subplot, so all those dead ends you wander down in your writing are beneficial to the overall story. Though only the reader can tell me if the ending of that subplot works (try The Hunt, if you want to judge for yourself.)
Several of the episodes in Victorian Mistress originally had different endings which changed as I learnt more about the characters and found avenues that seemed more interesting than the ones I originally imagined. Sometimes in your writing you’ll simply pave to feel out the ending and play around with it until the piece fits. So if you get to the end of your story and it just doesn’t want to work it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it might even mean the opposite because your writerly senses are telling you that there’s something amiss. The solution is a step back, some thought, some experimentation and probably some editing.
Endings are difficult not only because they have to complete the story you’re working on but also because there’s a pressure to make it good so people will want to read more of your work. So if you’re struggling for an ending don’t worry, it’s a common problem and you’ll get there.