The End of A Story

December 8, 2012

I’m still posting to the 2012 NaNo forum boards,

And a participant asked this question about first drafts; not the after NaNo editing itself but, a deeper question about when can you tell a novel is done:

 “If you have written all the way through to the end of your story, how can you tell if you’ve really finished? Surely there could always be more character development or other scenes or other scenarios. How do you know when to stop adding and that your novel is complete? I’m really struggling!”

NaNo planning endI thought about that a bit and I thought about all the novels I’ve wanted to continuing writing because I was in love with the characters, when, really, I had finished what needed to be written.

So I thought about what made it ‘The End” and how it was clear to me that I was done writing. I broke down my process and thought about the craft elements that go into a finished work. And after I posted this response, I went over it and added a few things – Here it is for you guys:

You have to know what you want the story to be about. And that has to be a finite thing – the story isn’t about a character.
It’s about what the character will do in a set amount of time.
So you need to decide: What set amount of time are you writing about?
Because anything beyond that story’s set amount of time is just another story about your characters.

A set time for a story might be a summer. It might be a school year. It might be the time it takes a young girl to follow her dream across the world to be part of the famous motion picture industry, but it has to be a set amount of time.

So try to decide on that and then ask if you’ve set your story within those time/length parameters.

Characters have arcs
A boy is neglected and abused where he lives, he finds out he is special, he’s put into a new environment, he manages some deed, and finds a new sense of home.

That’s the end of that story about that boy. Even when there will be six more stories about this boy. That is the end of the arc of this single story. A novel is about a character’s story.

A series is about the continuing adventures of your character.

Scenes also have these arcs: the state of things for your character at the opening of the scene is different at the end of the scene. Or at least it should be.

Chapters are scenes strung together, and again there is an arc – the first scene through the last should show some shifts and changes for the character’s state of being –

  • A shift their way of thinking
  • A change to their circumstances
  • Some new appearance or presentation of their new opportunities

Think about these shifts in movement the writer has caused for the reader, the writer taking the reader someplace: going from the reader seeing him as a boy living under a staircase to the reader finding out he’s the ‘Boy who Lived’, whatever that may lead to.

Many chapters use all those scenes to string together all the Characters’ arcs in the entire book. Everyone has changes in some way due to the choices they made along the way.
One kid makes a new friend. One kid makes a life long enemy. Three kids become a team. A family must accept the changes one person makes to their ‘stable lives’. At the end, all these arcs have happened; they began and they ended.

You asked: Surely there could always be more character development or other scenes or other scenarios.
Yes, there always can be. However, the first story has an ending to it.
Something is achieved. Something is let go. Something is realized. And those things happen between the beginning and the end of the set amount of time.

So, any further character development or other scenes or other scenarios, are stories you write later.
Look for your arcs in what you have now. If you don’t find them, them go back and see where they can be added. This doesn’t mean tacking things onto the end of what you have now. It means fixing the interior of the story.
But– if they are there– then a single story for this character of yours has been told. And you are finished (for now).

Hope this helps you.
ej

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5 Responses to “The End of A Story”

  1. Laura Bruno Lilly Says:

    Just the check list I needed to see…the ‘set amount of time’ has been my plumb line from the get-go. And fixing the interior of the novel is what I am currently doing. Thanks for the ‘validation!’
    peace
    LAURA aka desertmountain


  2. […] arcs. And that’s where better storytelling begins. It might even help you find a more solid ‘End of A Story’ My story notes are not transcribed from a voice in my mind- they are lists of actions, […]

  3. chelree Says:

    I read this a few days ago, and I’ve been meaning to leave a comment. This is really helpful! I usually find that when I start out writing, I don’t quite have an ending in mind which, of course, makes it hard to figure out where/how to end the story. But looking at it terms of arcs and where a character’s story ends for the time being is a much easier way to approach it (in my opinion). This is the first bit of really helpful advice I’ve found on figuring out the ending. Once again, thanks for posting. 🙂

    • ejrunyon Says:

      And thanks to you for commenting. Not enough folks do.
      I’m glad you got something out of this post. And I hope you read the others too, just in case lightning strikes twice.
      Feel free to leave questions about your writing on any of these posts, I’d be glad to reply.
      ej

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