Working on endings

At a school where I was asked to speak, one of the questions put to me was ‘How do you write endings?’

During the discussion that followed the students and I agreed that we have no trouble with finding story ideas, or writing the plot, but nearly always have a great deal of difficulty writing the end. I had to confess to them that, when I was at school, I was the same. Lots of good ideas, pages and pages of story, but when it came to the ending I was stumped.sometimes I just kept writing more and more. Sometimes I put off ending my stories for so long that I had to write another story instead. I tried to talk to the students about getting to know your characters – really know them that is – like you are walking around in their heads. Getting to know what they are thinking, how they are feeling, and how they react to the scary, the beautiful, the winning, the losing, all the ups and downs you are putting them through in your story. But really, when I reflected on it later, I realised that the hardest thing was just to persevere. I remember Julie Watts, the very talented publisher and editor at Penguin Books, once said to me, ‘You just keep putting one foot after the other, don’t you Elaine? You never give up.’ For some reason that remark of hers has stayed with me. Perhaps because I had never thought of it like that before.

I have plenty to say about the excitement of starting a new story. The ideas tumble onto the page. The characters begin to reveal their names, their settings and eventually they settle into a sort of incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces are missing, some are upside down and don’t reveal their true shape and colour until later. I find myself going back and back to it, moving the pieces around, slowly seeing a more complete picture emerge. I guess it’s like all puzzles. The satisfaction of eventually getting it to come right keeps me working on it. Perhaps that’s the secret of endings. You just have to work at them for as long as it takes.

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