Struggling With The Ending: How Does an Author Decide the Final Fate of Characters?

Struggling with the endingHere in the United States Thanksgiving came and went this past week. On Thursday I sat at the dining room table with my husband, my brother, my sister-in-law eating the feast we had prepared. I might as well have set two more places. Because as far as I was concerned the two major characters in my new novel were sitting right there with us. I am struggling with the ending.

For the past two months Analiese and Isaiah have gone everywhere with me. They wake me at night. They accompany me to the grocery store and stay with me while I do the laundry. My husband will testify that they were with us last night at dinner, because he was just one eye-roll away from telling me to send them both off a cliff. I knew he didn’t want to hear about my book for the rest of the meal, and who could blame him? (In my defense, as penance I let him explain the game of football to me. No, I don’t understand it. Still don’t, but we made headway.)

Sadly I didn’t make headway on my book. Let me tell you why.

I’m an outliner. I freely admit it and have said it here before. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, although the other option, pantser–as in plotting by the seat of your pants–believes we outliners have no creativity and plod through our manuscripts without a shred of enlightenment. They fail to note that we created our outlines and often deviate, but still . . .

As an outliner I usually look forward to the end of my novel. I’m working toward ending the story from my very first word. I know where I’m going. I have a road map, and while I might take a side trip or three, I get there at the end, satisfied the journey was worth it.

Not so with The Color of Light. This is the fourth book in my Goddesses Anonymous series. I hope it won’t be the last, although it may be awhile before I write more in the series. Still, whether the series ends or not, the book certainly needs to.

The problem is that I can’t seem to make myself write the ending I intended. These characters have grown inside me. I feel their struggles in the marrow of my bones. I am right there with them on every page, and far too often I feel their pain as if it were mine.

Now that I think about that, their pain is mine because, well, I created them, didn’t I?

Last week in the throes of my misery–which is at least partly due to a rapidly approaching deadline–I thought of another way to end the book. Dare I make the change? After all, I’ve been heading one way the entire novel. The change will take at least some revision. But I’m still far enough from the ending that I can do it. The question is, should I?

Here are some points I’m considering:

  1. Which ending is most realistic?
  2. Which ending will upset the least number of readers?
  3. Which ending will upset me so much I can’t bear to write it?

Now it’s December. I’ll be wrapping presents, baking cookies and struggling with the ending right along with Analiese and Isaiah this Christmas season. But I have a possible solution to my dilemma. I may write two endings for my editor to choose from, or at least promise to write a second if she doesn’t like the one I give her.

Is that wimping out? Or will knowing I can do that make it possible for me to finish this book? What do you think?


  1. Kathryn@Book Date on December 2, 2014 at 2:04 am

    Oh what a dilemma. Hope it is sorted to your satisfaction – good idea to give your editor both versions, but hope your heart is with the ‘right’ one. Can’t wait for it now!

  2. Joni on December 2, 2014 at 5:26 am

    Follow your Heart!!! Deep inside you know the ending you really want!!!

  3. Martha on December 2, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Good morning Emilie. I do wish I could wave a magic wand and somehow come up with the perfect answer to your dilemma. Alas, I can only thank you for confirming the reason that I will continue to pen poetry and non-fiction. However, in your defense, I cannot think of any of your books that I have read that disappointed me in any way. Go for it!

  4. Marilyn Seitz on December 2, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Oh please don’t make it a sad ending!

  5. Lynn Ross on December 2, 2014 at 11:40 am

    If you were the characters in the story (and you are since you created them), what would you want to happen with all your heart. The physical plane can be so painful at times, and beautiful love stories with happy endings are such a lovely escape. The beauty of fiction is that it doesn’t have to be brutally realistic. But in the end, be true to yourself.

  6. Lorraine Thacker on December 2, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Interesting dilemma, I truly believe if it’s causing you this much trouble…your gut is probably telling you that the originally outlined ending is not the right one and that you should change it to suit you. Trust me, as one of your long time readers, I can assure you we will read it!

  7. susan geneva on December 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    I think you should include both in the book. Have one than have an alternate one for us. I am greedy I love everything you write. I believe sometimes things that happen in the writer;s life at that time when they are writing a certain book influence what happens to their characters. You writer with so much depth to your people. I am amazed each time I read your books how much I want to know these people, be in their town, make me feel like I am the fly on their wall.

  8. Sherry Rosenberger on December 31, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Let me just say, if the ending you chose makes us asking more questions, please, please write the next book F-A-S-T! I have such a hard time waiting for the next one….although you could write another from a previous series, yes?

    • Emilie Richards on January 1, 2015 at 9:24 am

      I just turned in The Color of Light, so we’ll have to see about the ending. It will certainly surprise my editor. 🙂 Thanks for your lovely email.

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