Ideally, a story’s conclusion grows naturally from all that came before it, in a way that is logical but still has an element of creative surprise. That’s a difficult balance. If it’s too obvious, the reader can see it coming a hundred pages away. If it’s too unexpected, the reader may feel tricked. (Sometimes, when people complain that the ending of a novel was predictable, I wonder if they actually predicted it, or if the author made it seem so logical that, once read, no other ending was imaginable. I’m better at predicting the ends of movies, although there does tend to be a lack of imagination in certain genres (how many action films conclude with the protagonist defeating the antagonist in hand-to-hand combat? Or a better question: How many don’t?)).
I tend to read quickly, and I often speed up when the story tension rises. I’ve had a few times when I’ve been barreling through the final chapters of a novel and suddenly find myself asking “Wait; WHAT?” And I go back, trying to figure out why things don’t make sense any more. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t pick up on a key element. Usually it’s because the story is losing cohesion, or the author has pulled in something from out of the blue. I think Terry Pratchett does well with endings. Where the characters’ actions are credible and the results satisfyingly resolve the situation. Stories where you close the book after the final page and think “Yes, that was good.”
All this has been on my mind lately, because I’ve picked up “Joyest Place In The World” again, and am trying to finish the first draft. And the final act is not yet good. If this act was a clay sculpture, it would be lumpy, with gaps and odd bits sticking out that don’t really fit anywhere. Which is why I ground to a halt on it a while back. (I know. Rookie Mistake.) But my recent Stumptown experience prompted me to pull it out again from the metaphorical back burner and turn up the heat.
Don’t get me wrong; I had a great time at Stumptown. But I had a few moments when there was a lull in the crowd, and I thought: “What am I doing here? My ambition is not to be a webcomic artist!” And it’s not. I do enjoy the webcomicry, and it is building name recognition, yet I don’t want to get stuck in that pigeonhole. I will greatly increase my chances of becoming known for my novels (or short stories or screenplays or even comic books) if I actually finish some and get them published. Which means powering through the difficult phase where the finale has its initial form, but isn’t right yet.
I don’t want my unreasonable expectations of a shiny first draft to keep me mired. I’m practicing the mantra “I’ll fix it later.” Can I do it? We’ll see. I’m still working on that ending...