Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When "The End" Is In Sight

I've been working on a project that (in theory) should be done by now. In practice, however, life and the occasional plot tangent -- not to mention, one really cool but unpredictable character -- have conspired to keep me from writing "The End." Yet.

I continue to live in great hopes that “The End” will come, however. Since I’ve been doing a lot of pushing to get to “The End” lately, some thoughts on finishing a project seemed in order:

You Can’t Reach A Goal You Don’t Have
If you begin a work without a clear understanding of where you want it to end up, chances are it will never be finished.

For one thing, you will never know whether or not the project is actually done. Furthermore, without a clear end goal, there is nothing to help you stay focused, and your characters are left to fend for themselves. When that happens, they tend to end up just muddling about, playing things safe and refusing to get into any sort of interesting trouble.

Enjoy Playing God
As a project winds to a close, you get to ask yourself all sorts of God-like questions.

  • Is there enough conflict?
  • Can anything more be done to escalate a character’s dramatic journey?
  • Do all events make sense, or do they appear contrived?
  • Is the original purpose / theme / motif well-served?
  • Are the characters real to you, or could they be more rounded?

Once the project is in its final stages of creation, it is important to ask these questions and others like them. If you ask them before “The End” is visible, however, often the creative process gives way to premature editing, which can lead to a real loss of inspiration.

Knowing that you have a complete version of the project to fall back on can free you up to explore various creative options and – hopefully – improve the work.

Revisit the Past
I generally find that my characters develop more distinctive voices and personalities as a project progresses. Once I’ve spent several weeks with them, I generally know their likes and dislikes, their speech rhythms and pet words. While I may “know” some of these things at the outset, they often seem arbitrary or contrived.

As I near “The End” – especially when I’m fighting to make each scene worthy of inclusion – I find it helpful to take an occasional break and re-read several of the opening pages. I sometimes find character traits I’d forgotten about. More often than not, I discover my characters saying things that are no longer consistent with who they have become.

Remember Your Audience
Never forget that the two most important parts of any project are its beginning and end. That is what the audience is most likely to remember. The beginning must drive the entire project and hold the audience’s attention. The end must be inescapable, unmistakable, plausible, and satisfying. Ideally, your audience won’t be able to predict it, but when it comes, they won’t be able to imagine a better means of closure.

Botching the ending lets your characters and your audience down. So spend the time it takes to get it right. Agonize over it. Make sure your loose ends are tied up. Make sure your characters remain consistent. Make sure you’ve explained everything that is necessary.

If you wish, leave the door open for another installment. But don’t spend so much time being clever, trying to hint at the start of a series or franchise, that you fluff the end. Give your audience what they want – a reason to read / hear / see the project over and over again.

With any luck, I’ll finish the project soon.  I will #Write2theEnd.  To all of you who are currently on a similar journey: take heart! Keep writing! The End is in sight!


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your view of the end, all the more, because it is completely different from my view of the end of a project.

Great stuff! It really got me thinking about Mikara Falling, and if I managed to tie up all those plot threads at the end. Hmmm....

Ami Hendrickson said...

Thanks for your kind comments. I'm curious: what is your view of "the end" and how does it differ from my own? I'm always interested in learning new ways to approach wrapping things up...

Cheers! (& best of luck w/ "Mikara Falling.")

J E Fritz said...

Very good advice. Thanks!