Six months and 19,380 words ago, I had just an inkling of what I wanted to write for my senior creative writing thesis. Concepts, themes. Family drama. Coming-of-age. Episodic. Alternating points of view. For the first of those six months, I groped around in abstractions, flirting with different directions, unable to write more than a paragraph, or even a sentence, without feeling overwhelmed, lost. I tried to jump into writing with the what? and not the who?—characters. The core of any story.
So then I agonized some more, trying to craft people out of thin air, until I found a man from one of my old short stories that I’d written for a workshop. I had so many questions for him; there was so much that I had not yet charted in his history. Why are you alone? Why aren’t you closer to your daughters? These questions told me that I had found my story.
Actually, I’d submitted the original short story to the university’s student-run literary magazine, just months before. They rejected it and told me that it was just a moment, not a story. It hurt. I was bitter for a while, mostly because the rejection made me doubt the love that I had for the piece—a confidence that is rare for writers to feel for their own work. But I am so glad that they didn’t accept it. I realized that they were right, and now, six months and 19, 380 words later, I have a story. A novella, in fact.
And I have one more scene left to write.
You can research all you want about how to write the most effective ending possible. Resolve the conflict, the experts say. Tie up loose ends. Don’t philosophize. Do redeem your character. Don’t be cliché. I’ve tried to prepare myself this way, to make me feel like, yes, I know what I am doing. I’ve studied the technique, the mechanics of ending a story to make me feel like I am prepared to finish off this draft.
But what they don’t mention on these how-to sites is how emotional it is to write the ending, to complete a project that you’ve been working on for months—and in some writers’ cases, years. I’ve spent the last half-year with this family, these people. Yes, they are no longer just characters; they are people with personalities and memories and fears and regrets and aspirations. I know them. And now I have to say goodbye.
Well, not quite. I still have to edit and revise—a lot. Regardless, parting ways with my characters and concluding their narratives kind of feels like…the end of Toy Story 3. (Spoiler? Oops.) Ending a story is a lesson in letting go. You have to do it at some point. And you have to have faith that you’ve done it at the right time and in the right way.
What is the right way? To be honest, I’m not sure. Not yet. But I think I will know when it happens. I’m sure I’ll feel the bittersweet pain of watching my characters walk away from me on their own terms, stepping over the last printed period to continue on with their lives—stories for another time.