December 5th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Some authors simply don’t end well. Neal Stephenson, for example. The man will write forever to avoid ending a book. Also, he seems to have a lot of extra paper or maybe stock in a paper factory. His books tend to rip-roar (in a very broad sense of the term) along before doing everything they can to avoid coming to “The End”. This problem affects more authors than you’d think, which is rough because how you end a book is so very important.

The deepest rooted of last lines is the childhood one: “And they all lived happily ever after.” Unlike the first line of such stories, “Once upon a time,” it isn’t just a formula. It’s a reassurance that the result the story has achieved will remain in place even now the story-telling has finished. But more than that, it acknowledges what the story was about all along. Folk tales that end like that have, all along, been about happiness and challenges to it; the subject of the story is there in its last line.

There are many ways to end a novel, some more successful than others. You have a reminder that this is just a story — authorial intrusion as a way of returning to reality. You have endings that make no sense at all. You have sad endings. You have happy endings. You have endings that turn the entire story in another direction. But at some point, you must end. Unless you have Guinness Book of World Records aspirations. We do not judge.

When it comes to finishing, yours may vary. We find the best approach is this:

Certainly, that’s my habit when writing a novel. Even if, in the event, the ending changes, I always like to have a draft of a last paragraph tucked away in the notebook somewhere by the time I’m halfway through. It is rather a comfort, and an idea of something to work towards, like a distant life raft in the uncharted ocean you’re swimming towards. And I guess most decent endings had the same sort of life; treasured up through the working process, slowly polished with much more care, to tell the truth, than the more conspicuous opening gambit.

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