Thursday, September 20, 2007

Finishing Strong

I recently finished a Christian fiction series that I've been working through for the last several months (in between blog tours, ya know). The author overall did a wonderful job with these books. It seemed for a little while that a pattern was developing and the story was becoming predictable, but the author managed to zag instead of zig and made the final book that much more interesting. Kudos on that one!

The individual books always managed to finish off in a satisfying manner, although you knew that there was more to come. I'd been waiting a while to see what happened in the end. When I came to the very end though, I stopped and wondered to myself, "Is that it?" I found the denoument to be quite unsatisfying as a reader. I didn't want all to be "happily ever after" for the heroes, with every situation neatly resolved, but all the build-up seemed to drop. I can't recall if that was the reaction of others who read this series, but I had a little disappointment from that.

I would still recommend the series to people, but there is a little tarnish on what was an excellent series. Now, I'm not naming the series because I don't want to debate what happened there. I'm just using it as an example of not finishing strong in your writing.

I say this because I think I really have to work at finishing strong. The way I write is usually that I have a scene pictured mentally, and I see the setting, actions, emotions, and have a sense of the dialogue, as well as knowing where I'm going with it. But I suffer from a bad habit from high school days, which was never taking time to write a rough draft. My writing was strong enough I could get by with my first effort. Mind you, I would edit as I went, but it doesn't help my attempts at writing now.

This is pertinent because I have an internal editor that won't shut up. I really try to get into a groove with writing, putting words on the page, but I get hung up frequently by trying to word things just right the first time. It becomes a battle to get much production done in my limited writing time. I wrestle with my keyboard (not literally), trying to balance my editing with actually getting somewhere!

Finally I reach the end of a passage or story. I've battled, flailed, and otherwise made myself push through to this point. There is light at the end of the tunnel! Unfortunately, this is where I override that nagging in my head and rush to the finish. Phew! I did it...except I didn't. By hurrying the end, I lose the emotional/suspense/build up I've been doing, and the story suffers.

This is my particular struggle, and how it typically plays out. I don't think the author of the series had this type of problem - it may just be me that feels that the ending was a little flat. I know there are a lot of ways for the ending to suffer. However, this is one of the worst things an author can do! If we've managed to hook the reader, given them something interesting and entertaining to spend their valuable time, only to rob them from the pay out they were expecting - boy, I can't imagine a bigger way to lose people. A book I can't get into is one thing; a book that burns me after that investment of time will cause me to forget the author forever.

I don't know of any magic solution to this dilemna, except for being disciplined and realizing that we need to finish strong. To use a football metaphor (just for you Mark), the best teams are the ones who can put the game away and hold on until the end. Those who struggle with letting their opponent back in will win some, but lose too many to be the best. I have to learn not to give up with the goal line in sight - sometimes the last few yards are the hardest to get.

Here's to the study and work we put in as writers - may we learn the skills we need to stay strong from start to finish! If anyone has any thoughts on this - tips or tricks to avoid this pitfall, please leave a comment. Maybe we can revisit this topic if there are good suggestions.


  1. If there were a magic formula, I'd give it to you, Jason. If you're a strong plotter, you might be able to figure out a cool ending and then work backwards from there, sort of planning out how you're going to get your characters to that point. That's actually the approach I'm trying to take with the story I'm working on.

  2. Since I'm working on book three of my trilogy, I am particularly interested in this topic, Jason.

    I also remember some time back in one of our blog tours there were a few reviewers who commented that a certain book had a short resolution. I have no idea if that was the same one you're referring to.

    But that brings up the whole issue of what makes a good ending.

    Some people think the endings that don't tie everything up neatly are the best. I think immediately of Gone with the Wind that seems decidedly like an unhappy ending though it leaves the door open for it to turn around. Which is why another author felt compelled 30 or more years later to write a sequel (a poor effort, in my opinion).

    Other people want the longer explanations--not necessarily happy endings for everyone, but at least knowledge of what became of them.

    So what really works? That's one I haven't studied out yet.