When A Story Fails At The Last Minute – A Ramble

Since I write these articles quite far in advance, I was still preparing last year’s Halloween stories when I wrote this article. So, I’ll be rambling about the creative process behind the fifth story, which was probably one of the weakest stories in the collection.

It was the kind of story that started out well, but then fell apart near the end. Originally, I’d planned to include a much grislier and more shocking ending (with the implication that one character was a cannibal). But, this seemed a bit out of step with the tone and style of the collection. So, I had to think of a new ending. However, I really couldn’t.

Worst of all, my enthusiasm for the story was rapidly running low. I found myself regularly procrastinating and reading random online articles instead of writing the ending.

Although some writers think that you should strictly eliminate the possibility of voluntary distractions whilst writing, I often find this to be counter-productive. If your story grips you enough that you don’t get distracted, then this is a sign that it is going well. But, if you get distracted, then this usually means that there’s a problem with your story. So, having a few possible distractions nearby can be a useful way to gauge how good your story is.

For a second, I thought about starting a new story instead. But, my enthusiasm for writing had been drained slightly already. Plus, I didn’t want to fall behind schedule. Not only that, I’d been having an uninspired day – and it had already taken me long enough to think of the idea for the story that I couldn’t think about how to end.

So, I didn’t want to let the story go to waste. But, I also didn’t have the enthusiasm or inspiration to think of a good ending for it.

What did I do? Well, I wrote an ending. It certainly wasn’t the best, most surprising or most logical ending in the world. Even after going back, improving the dialogue and adding a tiny amount of foreshadowing to an earlier part of the story, it still seemed like a slightly contrived ending. But, that didn’t matter, it was an ending.

When a story fails at the last minute, the best thing to do is to find some way, any way, to end the story.

Once the first draft of the story has been finished (however clumsily), then this removes a lot of uncertainty about writing the ending. This can put you in a better frame of mind. For starters, finishing a story badly is a lesser type of failure than leaving a story unfinished.

Not only that, there’s something of an emotional difference between working out how to end a story and working out how to improve a pre-existing ending. One involves thinking of a totally new idea, the other merely involves modifying or replacing something that already exists. So, there’s slightly less pressure if you’ve already written a crappy ending.

This approach probably won’t work for every story or for every writer. But, if you get near the end of your story and suddenly realise that you don’t know how to end it, then coming up with a badly-written ending can be a good way to make some progress. You can edit or replace it later (without the stressful feeling of “how do I end this story?”). But, even if you end up keeping it, then it’s still marginally better than an unfinished story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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