About the only thing more nerve-wracking than writing the first chapter of a novel is well, you guessed it: writing the last chapter. Getting that first chapter to sing and dance is tough because there’s so much pressure on it. You need to set the stage, introduce your key characters, raise questions, hint at your plot, and then step on the gas and plunge your hero or heroine into some kind of messy, action-packed crisis. That’s a tall order for the opening pages of a book.
At last count, I had rewritten my opening chapter about eight times — or maybe it’s ten times. I’ve stopped trying to figure it out! At this point, I feel I have a fast-paced, well-written, spicy start. Fast forward to the end of the book. Several hundred pages after my opening salvo, I’ve faced another challenge: how to end my story on a high note that sets the stage for more to come. Oy vey! This, too, is no walk in the park.
While working my last chapter over, I’ve asked myself four questions: As my story winds down, will my readers be really emotionally attached to my heroine? Do all the threads of my plot tie up reasonably well? Does the ending circle back to the beginning in a way that makes my story seem whole and the ending seem inevitable? Does my tale hit the last page with a bang instead of a whimper?
Answering these questions has kept me on the edge of my seat while writing — and I’m not sure the answer to them all is a resounding yes. But it’s the last one that is keeping me up at night. My sister Steph and I were talking recently about books that just drop off a cliff as they end — so disappointing! As a reader, I just hate that. I feel cheated — as if the writer just ran out of creative energy or got too bored or lazy to come up with an ending that was emotionally rich and satisfying. Do you feel that way, too? Do cliff-dwelling, lousy endings steam you? What does a great ending feel like to you?