Today I have endings on my mind. Mostly because last night, after years of sharp hilarity, “Parks & Recreation” aired its final episode. It was absolutely perfect, and it was brilliant, but still, it was the end.
“Nothing lasts forever” is one of those cliches that, through constant use, has become totally meaningless. But no story can keep going. Everything ends.
So how do you know when you’ve reached the end of your story? Not your story your story, which, I assume, would be fairly obvious and is a little more depressing than where I meant to go, but the story that you are writing. How can you know that it’s over?
Sometimes it’s trickier than it sounds. Generally speaking, when writing, I keep an eye on word count so I know where I am structurally, and I know where I have to be going. When I hit a certain point, I can tell it’s time for loose ends to find their mates, for resolution to happen, for arcs to come in for a landing at their final destination.
Which is all very mechanical, and doesn’t really speak to the sense of completion required for a story to feel satisfying to the person reading it.
I follow a simple philosophy, definitely not an original one, but that has been used for as long as there have been stories. Start a story exactly when it needs to start, no sooner. And end it at the point where all that is important to the story has been told. A story should completely fill the space it is given.
Think of a painting of a house. If your painting of a house is mostly landscape, it’s not really a painting of a house. If it’s about the house, that should be the focus.
Like the “Parks and Rec” finale, an ending should leave you satisfied, make you feel as though you’ve taken a trip, and whether you like it or not, the time has come to go home.
Check out my full-length novels, Her Cousin Much Removed, The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!