Monday, 8 May 2017

THE WRITING LIFE: Endings - happy? hopeful? sad? A dilemma...

Another long gap between posts. My excuse is that my new baby - in other words, my new book - made its way into the world just eight weeks ago, so I'm still having to do quite a lot for it in the hope that it will eventually take off on its own, be successful and make me proud. (Click here to buy on Amazon)

To continue with the analogy, my fourth novel, which I'm currently redrafting, is close to full term, so all in all, I've been busy. Right, I've had enough of that, now, so I'll start talking normally.

I wrote a first draft of book 4, as yet untitled, relatively quickly – in four months – and I've been rewriting it since the beginning of February. A good boost to the process was a six-day writing retreat at the Arvon foundation's Clockhouse. away from domestic responsibilities and in the company of three other lovely writers, I got loads done.
Communal sitting room

private study lounge

My task was to make the novel little less dark, so there were new scenes and chapters to write, but I also needed to do some restructuring. To my delight, there was an enormous corkboard in the room. I work on Scrivener, but I still like actual physical pieces of paper on an actual physical corkboard. I printed out my chapter summaries and was able to fit the whole novel onto this wonderful corkboard so I could move stuff around.

The rewriting was going so well, I was fairly sure I'd be finished by the end of this month. But now I'm about to embark on writing the final scenes, I find myself suddenly crippled by doubt and indecision. I usually go for 'hopeful' rather than 'happy' endings, but my original ending for this book - can't give details, obviously – couldn't be described as either.

When I wrote it, I thought it was the right ending for this character's story – the natural progression for her, given previous events. My character was not exactly 'happy', but calm and accepting of how things worked out. But my agent and editor didn't like it. Let's face it, they've been in the business a long time – they know their shit, basically, so I'd be stupid not to listen. The three of us bandied round a few ideas for an alternative ending, and I set out to do the redrafting with one or two possibilities in mind.

However, now I'm at this stage where I'm trying to actually write the alternative ending, I find I'm horribly stuck, because something is telling me that these alternatives are wrong - contrived. I know many other writers will say I should stick to my original idea. But the thing is, there's no point in doing that if it makes the book into something no-one wants to read.

So what do I do, people? What is more important to the reader, a truthful but sad ending, or a believable, hopeful ending, that may just seem slightly contrived?

A couple of years ago, I read a book that I loved from the first page and almost to the last. It was brilliantly written, with sympathetic, convincing characters and a page-turning plot. The central character was in severe peril, and I was convinced that something would save her at the last minute. It didn't. I was devastated. The integrity of the author was flawless - in that situation, at that time, what happened in the novel is almost certainly what would have happened in life. But I went from wanting to recommend this book to everyone, to not recommending it to anyone, because the ending had left me feeling so bleak and I didn't want to pass that on. (If you're interested, I blogged about this at the time - you can read the post here)

So you see my problem? I don't think my ending would be as bleak as this one was, but maybe I'm deluding myself. readers and writers, I'd be interested to know your thoughts on this dilemma! The only thing I can think of to do at the moment is to try and force myself to write one or two alternative endings and see how they feel. I've already set one of them up through the novel, but even that feels almost impossible to write at the moment. Arghh!

On a more positive note, there have been some lovely reviews for What She Lost this week:
Amazon reader review
Amazon reader review
Amazon reader review

If you'd like to find out more about me and my work, please visit my (soon-to-be revamped) website or follow me on Twitter or Facebook


  1. I know the feeling... and it's not an easy decision to make. True, you have to trust the opinion of people who A)have been in the business for longer and B) are readers themselves BUT a book is first and above all the product of its creator's mind and should develop and end the way its author feels right to be accepted by him/her. Unfortunately what an author wants is also for their book to be appreciated, for their "baby" to be loved just as much as they loved it while creating it, and if the epilogue one feels right is not at all so in the eyes of everyone else, then a sacrifice must be made to ensure all the hard work will be compensated by genuine praise.

    I am facing this dilemma myself, as the plot I am working on does have an happy ending. It's the first and so far only one, as all others have bleak epilogues (not sure why). However, just as I was about to define the summary of the last chapter, here it came a twist which totally destroyed the happy ending and gave the whole story a totaly different interpretation. So what to do now? Say no to such an intriguing, interesting twist and preserve the happy ending, or keep it and create yet another sad closure of a long adventure?
    Hard to say. I have a bit of time to think over it, am still 2/3 into the first draft, but...

    All my sympathy there, Susan. I am sure the right epilogue will pop into your mind when you least expect it and will be even better than the one you had to give up to!

    1. Sorry to hear you're going through a similar dilemma – it's so hard, isn't it? As you say, we want our 'baby' to be loved, but can that be at the expense of something we find more intriguing and interesting. We have to take all this into account and then make the decision. I think maybe the thing to do is to try not to agonise over it too much, because these things do have a habit of, as you say, popping into your mind when you least expect it. Let's hope this happens for both of us, and soon! Good luck with yours, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

    2. Thank you and no problem! :)
      To the next update! ;)

  2. I think the 'writing several endings and see which fits' is probably the best you can do at the moment. When I wrote The Planter's Daughter I worked hard to get an optimistic ending - and eventually realised that it simply didn't fit with the rest of the book. I hope you'll 'just know' when you find something that works

    1. Thanks, Jo. Yes, I think that's it exactly – you want an optimistic ending, but if it simply doesn't fit, it would seem contrived. I think I'll do the same as you – I'll TRY to make a more hopeful, optimistic ending, but if it really doesn't work, I'll have to be honest about that.

  3. I'd really like to read your post, thank you!