Endings and the “I Gotta” Revisited

zombie fiction by Barbara CusterLast night, I worked out an ending paragraph for “The Good Samaritan,” one of the stories in the upcoming anthology, The Forgotten People. It took me over an hour to do it. Tonight, I’ll go back and review what I wrote, and if it still doesn’t feel right, then I’ll look at other endings to short stories that have worked. Endings have been my bane since I first got into writing in the early 90s. Coming up with a workable conclusion was part of the reason I took a break from my sequel to When Blood Reigns.

Okay, I’ll have a slice of Provolone cheese to go with my whine.

I took a Facebook survey on endings, and found that most people are facing the same struggle I do. Stories don’t have to end on a happy note, but they should come full circle. One can tie up all loose endings or end at a cliffhanger, but the bottom line is: satisfy the reader. My Facebook buddies gave me an invaluable piece of advice: make sure I have a definite ending in mind, if not written before I write the story. Going forward, that’s what I will do. It won’t help with my current anthology or the sequel to When Blood Reigns, but I have a plan for the future.

So why do I keep going? Stephen King calls it the “I gotta.” I wrote the stories long ago for different magazines, and then last summer, after my adventure with the termites, I sorted my material and realized these stories spoke about the same alien race, the Athyrians. In case you’re wondering about the Athyrians, you’ll have to wait until the book goes live to find out. Science fiction appeal aside, many of the stories had a common theme: how health care was becoming more cost-prohibitive. All of them needed significant updating and revisions, so the “I gotta” was born, and now I feel driven to finish these revisions, including the ending, and get them into print. The “I gotta” for The Forgotten People was the main reason I took a break from my sequel, but once the anthology goes into print, I’m heading back to my sequel. The main character in the sequel loves her Mylar balloons, and some readers have been asking for a “balloon” tale.

The “I gotta” has kept me going strong despite the breakdown of two computers and a host of other winter mishaps. None of them have challenged me as much as these endings.

Do you find your endings challenging? How have you resolved the problem? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Elusive Ending

Barbara Custer struggled with an elusive ending in some of the tales in City of Brotherly Death.Recently, I received a jewel of a submission for Night to Dawn. Every word counted; every line urged me to keep reading. I was revving up to write a nice acceptance letter. Then the story ended, but the ending stopped me. A part of the plot was left unfinished. I wondered, where’s the rest of the story? So I emailed the writer, requesting a revision. Most of the time, when I request a rewrite, it involves the ending.

What makes the ending so tough to write? Because sometimes our characters take us in unexpected directions, and so the perfect ending we had envisioned doesn’t sound so good after all. For my WIP, I cheated and wrote the ending, but something tells me I’ll need to revise because of the changes in my characters. It means tying up the subplots and showing that my character has changed. “Twist” endings are nice, but they have to be believable. The ending has succeeded when, upon arriving at the last word, you and your reader feel satisfied. I once read a complaint about a book, saying that the author must have been awfully tired when he wrote the ending. I admire writers with published anthologies because they’ve had to come up with a passel of meaningful endings.

Beginnings and endings can be a bear to write. My worst experience with endings happened with “One Last Favor,” one of the stories in City of Brotherly Death. That book went to an editor. “One Last Favor” had a less than satisfactory ending and she called me on it. A flurry of emails went back and forth with the editor making suggestions. I still felt lost, so I took the ending pages to my writers’ group. More suggestions. I decided that characters Tara and Chris were going to marry. The editor did another read through, and noted that I had to tie up Tara’s pursuit by the revenants stalking the town (“One Last Favor” is a zombie tale). Back to the writers’ group again, and another round of emails with my editor. We finally reached a conclusion that worked. Toni demonstrated the patience of a saint, helping me improve my ending.

It took almost a month plus three of my best curse words to get through the ending of “One Last Favor.” I can empathize with people who struggle through the ending pages. So when an author submits work that has an unsatisfying ending, I’ll work with them to help make it better.

Do you find yourself struggling to get an ending that works? I’d like to hear about your experiences.

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