A highly successful writer once told me, “I don’t start writing a story until I know the last sentence of the story.”
It worked for her. I have never ever been able to do that. Well, not quite never: The one time I did was for the fourth book in the Crispin series. Except, while I had that last line, I never wrote the book.
(I still have the last line in my head.)
No, my method is that I must discover the last lines after I’ve worked on my book for many months. It’s not quite serendipity. In fact, I sometimes refrain from finishing the book for a while. At which point I work through the whole book (many times) with the hope—stress hope—that an ending emerges from what I have written.
I’m reminded of this because that happened with the novel I’m just finishing. For a variety of reasons, I did write an ending—many times. Nothing satisfied me or my editor.
What emerged at the last moment—last week—was curiously embedded in the book right from the first page, and then echoed several times in the course of the story. I hardly had noticed. But when I finally came upon a true ending, I could say, “of course.”
And something more. Only when I feel an emotional surge within me, a sense of completion—a physical sense of “journey’s end”—do I know I have found what’s the right ending.
It comes, I think, from finally and fully understanding the character I’ve created. It is almost as if the character is telling me where he/she is going/ending, as if I am observing an objective event. Such moments can—and have—brought tears to my eyes. When that happens, I know I’ve got it right. That it usually takes a year to get there only makes it more satisfying.
By this time, you are yelling at me: “What is that ending?” Of course, I won’t tell you. You’ll have to read the book and make the journey for yourself. If I’ve done my job right, you’ll feel what I felt.