Premature Climaxing

Neil Gaiman once remarked that the middle of a story was the hardest part to write for him. With the beginning of a story comes the heady rush of ideas and the thrill of setting up all the elements. With the end, there is the thrill of tying together all the various threads you’ve laid out and the satisfaction of accomplishment. The middle, that is where a lot of the gruntwork lies, and it’s often dull and laborious.

I’ll agree with that assessment, but I find I hate writing endings more than I hate slogging through the middle of a story. An ending can make or break a story; a strong ending can make a weak story good, or at least worthwhile, while a weak — or worse, a cheap cop-out — ending can cause a reader to retroactively hate every preceding page…and a strong ending to a strong story? Then you get something like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which I will forever love for how much the last page kicked my ass (Justin Cronin’s The Passage is a very close second for powerful last pages).

I want to write endings like that: final pages that very literally take your breath away and leave the reader sitting there with an expression of complete awe on his face.

To be honest with myself, I don’t think I’ve achieved that with Bostonia, but I’d like to think that the last few pages (epilogue number two) will tie a satisfying bow around the tale I’ve told.

The preceding final chapter, however…

Remember what I said about the surge of creative energy that propels a writer through the climax? Yeah, there’s a downside to that, and it’s called sloppiness.

Kate (of Time Traveler’s Wardrobe), one of my go-to test-readers, recently finished reading my manuscript, and so far the first batch of critiques is all about the final set piece in the last chapter, and they confirmed what I suspected: I rushed the ending. There were elements that made perfect sense to me that did not make sense to her. Some we traced to plot points revealed earlier in the story that she’d forgotten — some of which were so far in her rear-view mirror it’s not surprising she’d forgotten all about them — and others were flat-out flaws. In either case, I think a strategic line or two here and there would clarify matters greatly without sacrificing the pacing, which I need to keep brisk in order to heighten the sense of urgency in the scene.

This all falls under the umbrella of “that’s what re-writes are for,” so I’m not at all dismayed that draft one has some leaks that need plugging. It’s all part of the process.


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