Novel Writing: Reworking a Problem Ending

There’s nothing more frustrating than pre-writing a good story, getting a decent rough draft in of that story, and then eventually getting to an ending that doesn’t fit what happens in the draft. This can happen for a bunch of different reasons, and it can be quite frustrating to deal with. It’s effectively having a book that one wants to go and publish, but knowing that there’s a very important part that needs work.

I know this because that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the past month with my upcoming dystopian sci-fi novel, Under a New Sun. Everything in the draft went well, but when I got through revising it, the ending just didn’t seem right. While this can be infuriating, soul-crushing, or most likely a bit of both, all isn’t lost. A lot of options exist to overcome this last hurdle and have a draft ready for self-publishing. I’ll mention three.

Option 1: Cut the ending out, and reevaluate.
This is a great first option because it asks whether it’s you or the ending that’s the problem. Every once in a while, there’s a project that just never seems finished. Maybe it’s an inner editor problem: a screaming perfectionist that wants every adjective just-so and won’t settle for anything less than total compliance. Then again, it could just be a little bit missing that wasn’t caught earlier. Regardless, it involves the least amount of work for maximum reward.

Take the ending out of the manuscript (save it somewhere else for retrieval), and then read the last bit of the manuscript that remains. What happens next? Does it have to happen next? Could the ending change?

If not, chances are the ending is just fine. Even if it isn’t, it probably means there are just a few little fixes that need to happen. However, if the ending doesn’t relate to what’s going on, then option 2 might come in handy.

Option 2: Connect more dots between the ending and the scenes before it.
Imagine a plot where the protagonist is a forensic gardener named Samantha Greenthumb. She solves mysteries using her knowledge of horticulture. Her latest adventure involves helping police solve the murder of a college student in the local town’s botanical gardens. When she finally goes to the local co-op to confront the murderer for the big reveal, space aliens come out and abduct her.

Yeah, I wasn’t ready for that, either.

If the book goes like I just summarized, it needs some dots to connect Samantha’s mystery plot to the space aliens. While it’s not impossible for the two to be related, without explanation most readers will throw their e-reader or book at the nearest wall. So, if you’ve evaluated the ending and see that it might not follow what you’ve got, then go ahead and connect those dots. Keep connecting until you can reattach your ending with confidence.

Option 3: Be fearless, delete and then rewrite the ending.
Let’s suppose that neither of the two options produce a suitable ending. That’s fine. It’s time to be courageous and get rid of that problem ending. Delete it if you’re certain you can write a better one, or maybe take it out and save it somewhere else for the time being. Either works, because bravery isn’t exactly foreign to good sense.

Rewriting the ending can seem quite terrifying, but the process can be completely rewarding. Instead of thinking about it as doing something to rescue your book, think of it as a chance to explore what you’ve got even further. You might discover something that will not only get you a decent ending to your story, but it might even be better than you hoped for. Fortuitous accidents can happen, if you let them.

Regardless of how one tackles the problem, recovering from a problem ending is totally doable. It’s part of the creative process, and that process is what makes writing enjoyable. If you’re not happy with the ending, it’s no problem. Keep at it, and the world will be able to enjoy your book.

A Quiet Start

As the title suggests, I’m starting things off without much fanfare. That’s okay, because finishing up my book has been higher on my list of priorities. Still, I have to start saving a place for it to get noticed, and that’s where this place fits in.

Hopefully I won’t just market my book. Rather, I’d like to support the community here by occasionally gleaning wisdom from it, while sharing any useful things I might stumble across. That’s one of the really great things about writing: collaboration only makes the entire industry stronger. Competition isn’t really a thing.

Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Nonetheless, I’m excited about this adventure, and sharing it with other people.