Here's the scenario. You work your butt off, creating an outline for your novel. Then, as you sit down to begin writing, everything goes smoothly. Until you get to the ending. Then you freeze up. Nothing you write seems to work. You're at a standstill. Now, you want to know why. Here's the answer:
You're not trying hard enough. Seriously. Oh, I know you think you are, but you're leaving too many "holes" in your outline so that, once you get to writing that part of your story (the ending), you find yourself wallowing in doubt. And despair. And anger. Have you tried taking an Oreo-cookie break?
Better yet, if you want a drop-dead gorgeous ending that works, think it through. And I don't mean at the writing stage. By that time, you've missed the bus. I mean at the outlining stage. Keep going over the outline's beginning, middle, and end, and keep refining the ending. Dig deeper. Ask yourself questions such as, "If this, then what?" And if the answers you receive don't appeal to you, ask different questions such as, "What if this happens instead?" or "What happens if someone shows up and throws a monkey wrench into the works?" or "What's the least logical thing my main character can do that later turns out to make sense?"
It's called brainstorming. It can be done alone (my preference, but only because I'm a recluse from way back) or with others adding their thoughts to the mix. Either way, the bottom line is that it's up to you to explore every conceivable option, each alternative to the ending you have already outlined, and every potential outcome for each scenario you envision.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. That's why it's called writing and not doodling, playing, dawdling, or wasting time. I believe it was Richard Brinsley Sheridan who said it best when he wrote, "You write with ease, to show your breeding, But easy writing's vile hard reading."
Sheridan was an Irish satirist, politician, playwright, poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. His plays include The Rivals, The School for Scandal, The Duenna, and A Trip to Scarborough. As a Whig party MP, he served in the British House of Commons for thirty-two years and is buried at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Now that you know all that, do you think, with all those accomplishments to his credit, Sheridan stopped short in exploring potential endings for his works before choosing the best one of the bunch? Or do you suppose he spent grueling hours pouring over various potential scenarios that, while creative, still remained believable? And that, once he settled on the best ending to round out his outline, the writing became a whole lot easier?
Uh-huh. That's what I thought you thought. And, you'd be right. The question I have for you, then, is how many "grueling hours" do you spend on your meticulous "outlining"? I already know the answer, and it's simply this: Not enough.
If you want a fail-proof method for writing your novel, begin with a failure-proof outline meticulously composed over as long a period as necessary. In that way, by the time you get around to writing your book's ending, the story won't fall flat because it fails to support what led up to it in the earlier parts of the book. It's called getting the job done right. Try it. I think you'll agree: It's the only way to write. Until then ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, about writing right, available in ebook, paperback, and hardcover formats at amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs at substack.com weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, I do my best!)