Word Meter (which was created for NaNoWriMo but I use it for all manuscripts), I'm at the 82% mark in completing a major revision to my WIP. "Major," in this case, means skewing the whole focus of the book, writing new scenes, deleting old scenes (I've deleted more than 10,000 words so far), shifting some scenes around, and rethinking the overarching theme of the book.
I might feel better about that 82% completion if I didn't know what was coming: the ending. That final scene which, according to editing guru James Scott Bell, should do the following:
--End the novel in a way that isn't predictable yet is satisfying to the reader;
--Tie up loose threads;
--Contain resonance, that "perfect last note in a symphony that leaves the reader with something beyond the ending."
Sure, no problem.
There's more pressure. "Your first chapter sells your book," Mickey Spillane once said. "Your last chapter sells your next book." I don't even want to go there.
I wrote the ending to my first book in my head before I'd finished the third chapter. In the second book, a series followup to the first, I had three outlined chapters to go when I wrote a line and said, "This is where the book needs to end." So I ended it.
This book is my problem child, my Terrible Three, unrelated to the first two. Problem Child has, to date, had four different endings. It's about to have a fifth. (I need a fifth of whiskey, now that I think about it, or at least that bottle of Gluhwein that's sitting downstairs on my kitchen counter.)
Endings are important because readers have long memories. In one of my favorite series, JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood, I still haven't forgiven her for the ending to Vishous' book, Lover Unbound. She wrapped up the loose threads. It was certainly unpredictable. It had a reasonable expectation of a happy ending, although certainly not the one I wanted. But that resonance of satisfaction was missing.
I lost trust in her for a couple of books after that one--not enough to quit reading the series, but enough that I approached subsequent endings fearfully, without confidence I'd finish the book with that resonance of satisfaction.
And that's the problem I understand now, but that I didn't when I read Lover Unbound. We can't write to reader expectation. A few years after Lover Unbound was released, JR Ward said she was surprised by reader reaction to the book. She expected folks to be unhappy about Vishous' sexual quirks (trying not to write spoilers here). Readers accepted that. What upset them was the ending. I was not alone.
Here's what she said about it. "Even if I had realied it was going to be a problem..I wouldn't have changed the ending...I don't write to market and never have--the stories in my head are in charge, and even I don't get to see what I want to happen in the world occur. That being said, if I were writing the book again, I'd put in another ten pages or so at the end with V and Jane interacting to show the happiness they both felt--so readers were superclear that in the couple's minds things ended up just fine."
And so, as a writer, I had to forgive her as a reader--because she stayed true to her vision for the story. It's all we can do as writers, to create endings that feel honest to us and true to our characters. But I still wish she'd given me the extra ten pages.
How do you write your endings? And have you ever had a strong negative reaction to a book's ending?