So you’ve labored to get into the thick of it all. You got through that underbrush. You and your characters are covered in scrapes and bruises and probably a headache not to be matched by any hangover. And then, you see it – the light at the end of the tunnel. The End…
But then you realize, “Shit. I still have to edit this.”
Never fear, Selene is here.
I’m lumping the two of these together because, on one hand, I could talk about them both all day long, but on another hand, it would be easier for all of us to just get it over with in the conclusion to Part One – Starting, Part Two – Writing, Part Three – Plotting, and Part Four – The Middle, which is really just the whole Tips for Fiction Writing arc.
In this post, I’m going to help you prevent what the Great British Bake Off calls a “soggy bottom,” and I’m also going to help you figure out how to polish up what you’ve got at the end of this process.
Alright, everyone. Remember, to end a thing while it’s still good means that you’re doing it right. Personally, I think this is the most important rule of ending a story/series.
Don’t JK Rowling this. Like… we all know and love her, but we can all admit that she can’t leave anything alone now that she’s finished her magnum opus. She’s vigorously tweeting constantly and also publishing books geared toward an audience that, at this point, is only buying it because we’re tired and grew up with the content. But she isn’t the only one. Stephen King still can’t leave Roland alone, and we see that clearly in The Wind Through the Keyhole (which I loved, but it’s clear that he can’t leave Roland alone.)
Some authors like Rick Riordan (bless his soul) meet a publishing date push, which diminishes the overall quality of the story’s end like in Blood of Olympus. I think we’ve all gathered that my audience is geared toward self-publishers, home grown writers, and even still those who have contracts and guaranteed slots with publishing companies, but this post is more oriented toward those without a deadline, I think.
The second most important thing to remember is that things don’t have to be okay at the end. Sure, you should answer most questions, but nothing in life is all wrapped up in a neat little bow. There will be characters who didn’t finish developing. There will always be mysteries unsolved. But there should be some kind of overall resolution, just like in The Dark Tower. Was it satisfying? Not particularly because what the fuck, dog. But was it fucking radical and amazing? Yes. Yes, it was.
Here’s something that can help. In the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, each book is its own self-contained thing with an overarching plot much broader than the individual books, but the ending answers all the questions and starts a new cycle. Is it a tragic ending? In part, yes. Things aren’t 100% okay at the end, but they’re much better than when it started.
The trick is to make the ending satisfying no matter if you kill your main characters or if everyone lives happily ever after.
Cool, Love Doc, but how do I know when it’s done?
Closure! Closure is a good tool. I know I talk in “cycles,” but finding a good place where a cycle finishes is a good indicator. Here’s a few ways to indicate when a cycle finishes:
- Is the pace slowing down?
- Have your main characters grown into a completion of their arcs? / Have your main characters accomplished their primary goals?
- Have your main characters fulfilled their higher moral purpose / goal?
- Is there potential for another upswing while still solving most problems?
Honestly, the best way to figure out what would be the best way to end is to do a lot of your own reading and see what stands out to you!
Now, onto editing.
Editing is a terrible process where you kill your darlings. No, not like that. You’ve already done some of that probably.
Start off the editing process by giving your book a few days of rest. Maybe even a week or more, if you need it, so that you can rest your eyes and take some of the edge off.
When you finally feel relaxed, come back to your work and change the page size and font size (maybe even the background color). This helps find any tricky errors like misspelled words, odd spacing, sentences that were just left for dead in the middle of a thought, and many more. Think of it like in digital art, for you artists, where you flip a canvas and then see all of your flaws. (Oh my god, is the eye that wonky???)
The average attention span is about forty-five minutes, so try to plan to edit in forty-five minute increments with fifteen minute+ breaks. (This is coming from someone who edits manuscripts and papers frequently.)
Second, read through your manuscript lightly for content. I personally would use Word’s Track Changes mode to make comments where you find errors, so that you can come back to them later. Again, this read-through is a light exercise.
Mark all inconsistencies in this process and any egregious errors that you find mechanically, but don’t fix them yet. (Was the bathroom at the end of the hall or across from the kitchen? Because I have both right here.)
Once you’re done, step away for a few days. After that, go through and integrate your comment ideas into your manuscript, fixing every error you find. This is gonna take some time, so be sure to block off several days or weeks (depending on your abilities and manuscript size) for this task. Then, take a few days off.
Third, read through your manuscript again, this time looking for mechanical errors. Mark those off to the side using Track Changes again. Repeat the process from the second step by integrating changes after you’ve finished your whole manuscript. Then, take a few days off.
Repeat the process any number of times, but I usually edit something around five to ten times before it’s ready enough for me to put down. Cut your information to pieces. Cut out the unnecessary bits. Beef up parts that you think you need more of. For every addition, you need another revision process, so that’s why I encourage you to put all of your ideas in Track Changes comments so that you only have to revise half as many times.
Your manuscript will never be perfect. If, somehow, you’ve achieved perfection, then you aren’t a human being. The thing is, though, that people love imperfection. That’s not an excuse to churn out trash, but it’s a comforting thing. Artists are never happy with their work. Bakers are never fully happy with their bakes. Writers are never completely at ease with their writing. All of these are because every creator knows that there’s area to improve. And in that, we learn. We grow. We share our experiences.
Go out there and write.