In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end. Alexis de Tocqueville
Monsieur de Tocqueville lived from 1805 to 1859 (they tended reach their own end game young in those days--infections, mostly), and wrote a famous book about the American experiment with democracy. He was not, as far as I know, a novelist, however, he did, apparently, understand both the agony of the American revolution end game and the agony of the writer trying to put a close to things on a literary level.
So now, here I am, trying to end my own personal little revolution/novel by inventing a good ending. Many questions arise as the writer smells the denouement approaching while the climax roars in his head. How do I avoid ruining a perfectly good novel that I've labored over with mighty love for two years? Is it possible to scotch a perfectly good idea by screwing up the ending?
You can hear your readers talking it over with their mothers on the phone, or at the bar, or in the hair salon, or on lying on a beach towel, or chatting on FaceBook:
"Yeah, I thought it was great, too, but the ending sucked."
"I hated the ending. I can't believe he killed her off. What was that all about?"
"It would have been a fine book, but he blew it with the smarmy Hollywood ending."
"OMG! I couldn't believe the ending! It blew me away!"
OMG! Wait until you get to the ending. I cried and cried!"
Cliches of failure due to indecisivness come to mind: You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself. Better them crying than me, I say. If Hollywood ever makes a movie out of this book, I'll let them put in whatever ending they want, but for now, I'm in charge and I say, cry baby, cry.
Still, I struggle. How to put this whole 80,000-word deal to bed and get it just right. In an earlier blog, I quoted Mark Twain lecturing that the difference between using the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. The answer, I know intuitively, is right there in the book, hidden in arc of the plot, intertwined in the dialog. There is only one way to do it. Arrrgh. The pressure.
I've now re-written the ending five times. Sometimes I leave them stretched out there, bullet riddled and dying; sometimes they get up and walk away into the sunset; sometimes they desanguinate into the sand, sometimes all those bullets miss them by a hair. Sometimes I give up and go for a long walk.
But, what the hell and OMG, I've finished writing another novel. The angony of the ending is joyful one and sweating to get it just right is a deeply satisfying anguish.
Sunset over Onancock Creek from the cockpit of our sailboat: Mother Nature never gets criticized for her Hollywood endings.