Editing – The ending that wasn’t and never should have been

I loved the first draft of my novel.  It had it’s flaws and the grammar needed work, but I was fully convinced that the story was solid and needed no major revisions.

Once again, I was wrong.

The main part that really struggled was my ending.   Only, I couldn’t see that.  If not for beta readers who read my story, liked it, got it, and had the courage to ask me “wtf?” after the ending, I might not have realized how problematic it really was.  With a first novel you are establishing trust with your reader.  If your first novel breaks that trust, it’s unlikely that they are going to go on any more journeys with you.  I needed an ending that promised my readers I wasn’t trying to emotionally destroy them.

I won’t go into detail on how it originally ended, but let’s just say it was more of a projection of the emotional turmoil I was going through personally rather than anything true to the characters.  It also didn’t fit within the expectations of my genre (a whole different issue).  I’d put my own drama onto my characters and it just did not work.

Getting repeat feedback of “I loved it… until the end” triggered two immediate responses:  “That’s awesome!”  and “Oh shit…”

I knew I had to change it, but I wasn’t sure how.  I’d seen that ending for so long that it was difficult to see a different one.  I’d even started writing a sequel to my novel which depending on this very specific ending.  If I changed the ending, I would need to change much of what I’d written for the sequel.   The longer I sat on the feedback the more I agreed with it and finally started to see the glaring problems in my ending.  Ironically I was also struggling with some plot holes in the sequel that were a direct result of said bad ending.  That should have been my first clue that the ending was wrong and inauthentic to the story and characters, but hey, I was and still am new at this, so I ignored that idea that the first one was broken.

Eventually two new endings popped to mind.  One was the eventually ending I had planned for book 2.  I love that ending, and it probably still will be the ending of book 2, but it didn’t feel authentic for book 1.  My characters just were not at a point yet for that ending to make sense.   The other, my door number 3…  well, it had possibilities!

I wrote door number three and I loved it.  It had all the emotion of my original ending yet it was so much more authentic to the characters and their story.  I literally cried while writing it.  But, as great as it was, it still wasn’t quite there.   It was beautiful, sweet, optimistic, dramatic, but still not quite right and maybe not as satisfying as it should have been, especially for a debut and one that would have to stand alone if a publisher didn’t pick up the series.

Enter the magical door number 4!  Three might be most people’s lucky number, but I’ve learning through this process that 4 is mine.  Four different beginnings, four different endings.   The fourth version was very similar to version three but had a different final chapter.  This one tied up some loose ends, answered questions that had been left hanging (while still leaving a few to hopefully be explored in book 2) AND finally gave that emotional but satisfying happy-for-now ending that I’d struggled to find.

When I wrote this 4th version I could feel the “rightness” of it.  This is it.  This is what it’s supposed to be!  

Now I can look back on that original ending and shudder.  I see all the very many things that were wrong with it and I am so glad that’s NOT how it ended.  Hopefully someday in the not too distant future you will all get to read my current ending.  I hope that it brings you just as much joy and satisfaction as I experienced writing it, if not more.  Oh, and the ‘feels’, all the feels. 🙂