Endings. They’re not easy. My agent mentioned she thought my novel might need an additional scene at the end to “round things out,” which started me questioning things. Even though I liked the ending I’d written, I found myself thinking, what if…
Exploring alternatives isn’t a bad thing. So today I got up early to work on revisions. Much of that time was spent staring at my screen, running downstairs for a yogurt, or a coffee, even going outside to whack at an overgrown bush.
Revising is like whacking, anyway. Endings. Sigh.
The other day, I read a tweet by a YA Fantasy writer, Michelle Sussman, that she deleted the last two chapters of her novel and “rewrote them by mixing in [an] awesome new twisted backstory reveal.” That’s quite a shake up! When I emailed her about it, she said wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending, but had passed it on, as is, to a few readers for feedback. One of them questioned the backstory, and Michelle said, “That one tiny innocent question led me to nearly scrap the entire manuscript. I knew his question was valid – in fact, he’d stabbed right at the heart of my manuscript.”
The backstory was tied directly into her final two chapters.
It took Michelle two days of agonizing over what to do, much of that time spent typing mindlessly in hopes that the answer would magically appear, until it dawned on her that she’d taken the easy route. She hadn’t pushed herself to explore beyond the first idea that had come to her. She used The Rule of Twenty, where you look past the first ten obvious answers to consider at least 20, and then she found her answer.
“What else could I do but delete the last two chapters, come up with a stronger backstory and rewrite? …. I know changing the backstory and the ending will cause a domino effect of changes in my book, but I believe the entire manuscript will be stronger for it.”
It took guts to completely blow apart an ending she’d already written, but it reinforces the idea that the first couple of stabs we take when writing an ending (or any scene) may not be as creative as they would be if we kept exploring alternate ways.
Don’t hesitate to shake things up when you’re revising. Sometimes it takes bravery and confidence… and hopping up for another coffee, window gazing, taking a walk, lying awake at night, thinking what if. As writers, we need to give our endings the time they deserve, even if that means it gives us a headache. The outcome might be the reassurance that you had it right all along, but you’ll never know unless you push yourself.