sense-of-an-endingAs 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.


For more writing advice see my archive page or try Finding Your Voice for more articles on narrative structure.

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One thought on “Sense of an Ending

  1. It is interesting that you would add commentary on your Victorian Mistress installment, “The Hunt.” This is precisely why I came to leave a comment.

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your serial, “Victorian Mistress.” Serialized fiction has a long history and in these modern times it is nice to see the tradition being continued – you have certainly kept us on the edge of our collective seat.

    I cannot read Josef any longer without hearing Idris Elba. I cannot imagine Bran without seeing Hiddleston.

    I confess I have fangirled. Please take this in the spirit it is given – a spirit of respect and admiration for what you have accomplished. The story takes place immediately following the events of, “The Hunt.” I did this solely for kicks.

    The drums beat insistently. They were far away, yet they beat with an urgency that demanded his attention. Doing his best to ignore them, he looked back to the little girl. She laughed and her eyes sparkled with a child’s carefree mirth. Sunlight glinted in her copper hair and ringlets bobbed. Her pale skin highlighted a spray of delicate freckles painted across the bridge of her nose.

    “Father! Father!” The voice called. Not the girl? This voice was frightened, panicked. The drums were louder now, dragging him into the present, dragging him back into wakefulness.

    James Brennan, Roman Catholic Priest, being abruptly startled into consciousness, nearly knocked the bottle of Irish whiskey from his desk. The tympani beat of drums he’d heard in his dream was replaced by the pounding of fists on the thick sanctuary door.

    “Father! Father! Let me in! Father!” Fists continued to beat their tattoo on the sturdy oak.

    Brennan pushed himself away from the desk where he’d fallen asleep and stood. Digging his pocket watch from his trousers he glanced at the time. “Too late,” he muttered. “It’s too late for this foolishness.”

    Duty propelled him. Absently rubbing his eyes with one fist he called out, “Hold on! I’ll be with you in a minute.” He grabbed a ring of keys from the wall, crossed the sanctuary, and unlocked the door, wondering what he would find on the other side. At this hour one never knew.

    No sooner was the door opened than in rushed a boy of eight. His hair was unkempt, clothes reasonably clean but threadbare, and his shoes had perhaps another month’s wear in them. The boy dashed in through the partially opened door and tackled Father Brennan, nearly toppling him and buried his face in his coat. “Shut the door! Lock it! Please hurry!”

    The boy’s urgency was contagious and the priest hurried to lock the door. Once it was secure he turned to examine his young guest. He recognized him as Todd Ferguson. Aptly named, mused Brennan. The boy was wily and quick and ordinarily was quite self-possessed, not given to emotional outbursts or easily frightened.

    Todd attended mass occasionally with his mother, but that was becoming increasingly infrequent. The boy’s father had died in a warehouse accident a couple of years ago. Todd was left to fend for himself by a mother who, in her grief, had taken to drink, and had taken up with a progression of bad men in a desperate attempt to fill the empty hole left by her husband’s death.

    Brennan knelt down and looked the boy in the eyes. “What are you up to now? What has you so frightened?

    Todd glanced back toward the door, doubting its sturdiness. “It’s Griff. He’s dead.” At that, Todd’s face contorted with fear. Tears spilled from his eyes, cutting through the dirt on his face and leaving streaks.

    “Griffin Callahan?” He asked, handing the boy his handkerchief.
    Todd nodded vigorously and wiped his eyes.

    If true, what had the boy to do with Callahan? Griffin Callahan was a dangerous man, his fingers deep in a variety of unsavory and dangerous enterprises. If the boy was tied up with him in some manner it could easily go ill for him. Him and his poor mother. There were a lot of people who disliked Griffin Callahan, but precious few who would dare move against him.

    “How do you know he’s dead?” Brennan asked.

    “I SAW it happen, Father. He was murdered!” At that, Todd began to cry again, his eyes wild with fear.

    Father James Brennan had no platitudes, no scripture to sooth, and no homilies of divine encouragement. He simply wrapped the boy in his arms and let him cry it out. When Todd had calmed himself, Brennan tried to cheer him up. “You don’t have to worry any longer, Todd. Griff can’t do anything to you now. You haven’t anything to worry about.”

    “It’s not him, Father. It’s HER!”

    “Her?”

    “Her! The witch! She killed Griff. She killed him with magic!”

    Obviously he was missing some key information. “Start at the beginning, Todd. What happened?”

    “Ma was ‘entertaining’ a guest and so I figured I’d make myself scarce. I had nothing to eat all day and was terrible famished. I was out in the back alleys when I saw an open window. I guess that’s a good enough invite for a bloke what had nothing to eat all day, so I decided to investigate.”

    Father Brennan pinched the bridge of his nose in weariness. He had in front of him a young boy in such dire straits that he freely admitted to attempted burglary. There were hundreds, no, thousands like him.

    “I was up on one of the walls about to reach to the sill to climb into the window. Then I hear them coming down the alley. I didn’t want to get caught so I froze, statue like, so as not to catch their attention.”

    Brennan had warmed some milk into which he’d poured a generous dollop of whiskey. He handed the mug to the boy along with a hunk of bread. Todd attacked the bread and drank deeply of the milk.

    “Griffin was following a girl. I could tell it was going to go really bad for her. I could see it in Griff’s face. I didn’t dare risk being seen so I stayed quiet as a mouse. It was a girl and no mistake. Pretty she was, but wearing boy’s clothes – trousers and a jacket. She was saucy with Griff and he was angry. He said something I didn’t understand and he threw pennies at her. She was trapped with her back to a dead end and I was scared. I didn’t want to watch what he was going to do to her.”

    Todd began to cry again. His eyes welled with tears.

    “I thought that was the end of her, but out of nowhere she had a wand in her hand. As quick as a cat’s wink she touched Griff’s chin with the wand and he fell apart.”

    “What do you mean, ‘He fell apart?’” Brennan asked.

    “Just that, Father. She touched him and for a second he looked like embers in the grate. The next moment he was a pile of ash. It was dark, sure enough, but my hand on the good book, Father, that’s exactly what I saw.” Todd stole a glance at the door.

    “What happened next?”

    “Then she bent down and picked up some coins. She kind of looked like a bloke when she tucked her curls under her cap.”

    Brennan’s heart raced. Could it be? “Can you describe her for me?”

    “Oh, aye. She was skinny like, and very pale. Her hair was red and curly. Not too long, but you could tell she was a girl.” At the recollection, Todd began to shake.

    Father Brennan had no doubt who this girl was. No doubt at all. What she’d been up to, or what had happened with Griffin Callahan he wasn’t sure, but she had scared this boy half to death.

    “What are you afraid of, Todd?”

    “After she used her magic on him she put her cap back on and climbed one of the walls to get away. I was on the opposite side of the courtyard but, once she got to the top of the wall she looked around and saw me. She knows what I look like! She’ll be coming for me next.”

    “Well, Todd, I don’t thin…”

    “No, Father. She SAW me! She’ll be coming after me next and she’ll do the same thing to me. Please, Father, don’t make me leave! Please let me stay safe until morning!” His breathing hitched and his tears began afresh.

    The priest urged him to finish the milk, the bread long since consumed. “Stay here for a few moments. I’ll be right back.”

    He returned with a blanket and a pillow. “Lie down here on the pew and get some rest.” He covered Todd with the blanket. Pulling a small vial of Holy Water from his pocket he wet his finger and described the sign of the cross on the boy’s forehead. “You will be safe tonight. Nothing will harm you here. You have my word the girl will not come looking for you.”

    James Brennan, Roman Catholic Priest, sat at his desk sipping whiskey. He replayed the boy’s story over and over in his head, wondering exactly had happened. The boy was genuinely frightened, no doubt. He had seen something beyond his experience to describe. But what, exactly, had he seen?

    “What are you up to now, Charlotte? What madness are you undertaking? And why do I have this profound foreboding regarding what is to come?”

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