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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Revisiting the I Gotta Bug: Information Dumping

Barbara Custer's horror fiction included City of Brotherly Death

In my post about the writer’s “I gotta” bug, I detailed the struggles I had working the ending to “One Last Favor.” I sent my story with a revised ending to Toni Rakestraw. A few weeks later, she sent me the edited tale with the line edits and thought balloons, and at the end, noted “I’m not quite satisfied” with the ending. An ending could be happy or sad, but I wanted my readers satisfied, and now is the time to fix the problems before the story goes to print. Once the book goes to print, the ship has sailed.

But this ship hadn’t left harbor yet. “One Last Favor” is a novella. Because of its length and its army of walking dead, it’s the last story in the City of Brotherly Death anthology. The zombies and revenants are chasing after Tara, the protagonist. All up, a delightfully creepy tale, but with an unsatisfying ending. It’s like someone handed me a red silk gown studded with gemstones, and telling me, “Here’s your present, Barbara. The dress is yours to keep on one condition: you can’t wear it.”

Very frustrating.

Toni and I discussed the ending by email. I asked her what she thought of the ending. She couldn’t give me a direct answer, but she asked me if I was striving for a happy or unhappy ending. She also asked me how I ended it originally. Well, at first I had Tara joining Kraven and the undead, and that ending didn’t wash. Tara was too dedicated a nurse, and most people in their right minds wouldn’t give up their humanity to join a race of flesh-eating monsters. She then suggested that I rework the ending but with Tara and her lover together. This I did and I’ve also gotten feedback from my writers’ group. One of them mentioned Jonathan Maberry’s Write and Sell Short Stories class and his discussion on information dumping.

You may wonder why I’m bringing up information dumping. Information dumping is one of the worst sins a writer can commit, and that’s precisely what I did with the ending I’d sent Toni. I wrote a paragraph summarizing Chris (Tara’s lover) proposing to her, moving her to a new apartment, and then fading into the sunset while she deals with the horrors alone. Capital mistake. A marriage proposal is a life-changing event and not something to be tucked in a laundry list of back-story. Not only that. Chris has become an important figure in Tara’s life, and a gentleman like him wouldn’t let her face those monsters alone.

I also needed to resolve the central conflict, that is, the dead overrunning the state and eating people. I can’t go into details lest I give away the story but I addressed this with my last rewrites.

Once I addressed the central conflict and wrote the marriage proposal scene out, the ending began to make sense. I’ve gone through two rewrites since Toni’s seen the ending, and now I’m letting it sit while I work on other parts of the project. I will want to show it to my writer’s group once more.

Sometimes you need information dumping in your first drafts just to get your story down, but then ditch it in your rewrites. My WOP, Blood Moon Rising, a sequel to Steel Rose, has plenty of information dumps, and I’ve got my work cut out for me once I finish edits on City of Brotherly Death and Steel Rose.

Has information dumping been a struggle for you, and if it has, how do you deal with it? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.


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