Writing Excuses 6.30: Help! I Can’t End My Book!

Merry Christmas! Here’s the last episode of Writing Excuses Season 6! We decided to end the season with a discussion of endings. Specifically, we answer cries for help that we’ve gotten. The cries answered include:

  • I’m 90% done and I’ve painted myself into a corner! How do I end this book without resorting to deus ex machina?
  • The best part of this book was 75% of the way through! I need the highlight to be at the END!
  • My outline isn’t working here at the end! How do I know when to abandon it?
  • Help! I want both a satisfying ending and room for a sequel! (hint: we use an object lesson here…)

Dan needs a hamburger. What’s stopping him? And what is he going to end up with instead of a hamburger? (Hint: it should be more satisfying than the end he had in mind at the beginning…)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Try it narrated by Stephen Fry, or try out the original radio teleplays!

22 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 6.30: Help! I Can’t End My Book!”

  1. Excellent cast! Again, your timing couldn’t have been better. I have a plan now on how to fix my lackluster ending. Thanks!

  2. Wow, Mary’s suggestion was brilliant. It seems like I’ve been so focused on avoiding deus ex machina in the past that I didn’t realize I CAN resort to it and then go back and layer it in like you said.


  3. Mary is generally brilliant, yes.

    In one of our long-ago ‘casts Brandon said that deus ex machina is just a failure to properly foreshadow things. This trick for writing an ending is an obvious-in-retrospect outgrowth of that principle.

  4. This podcast made me hungry. I think I’m going to buy some Thai food.

    I liked the advice to just write the sucky ending anyway… then fix it later. I keep forgetting that advice even though I often preach it.

  5. One of the greatest things that this podcast does is to continually remove the mystery and mysticism of writing. This is another great contributor to that cause. When I was first writing, I felt like using an outline was somehow cheating, the second of my development found me slavishly holding to my outline. I have finally come to realize that writing is a very layered process, much like sculpting or wood carving. You just keep working at it until you get it to where you want it.

  6. What a great ending to a great season and a great year. I love the “write it anyway” advice. Sometimes I get myself into a corner and just want to throw everything out when doing so would probably be throwing the baby out with the bath water. It’s good to remember that we don’t paint ourselves into corners. We pencil ourselves into them, and we can eraser and pencil our way back out again.

  7. @Howard,

    It’s not my fault you chose a serial story telling method that leaves you with paint oozing everywhere. All the same, if you’re painting yourself into corners, I haven’t noticed. No pity for you, Howard. You’re doing fine.

  8. @Talmage,

    Is that the other writing podcast? Writing Without Pity? (Or maybe Revising Without Pity: the podcast about fixing it in rewrite and how to kill your darlings.)

    Still, that’s something they cover here, so maybe we don’t need a different podcast….

  9. Should have said this before.

    If you want other suggestions, including an earlier and more full discussion of the quality of full-circleness (okay, resonance and resolution) that Dan mentioned in the podcast, try Ansen Dibble’s book Plot. (I’m afraid I bounced off James Scott Bell’s book on plot, so I can’t comment on it.)

  10. I agree with Ben – Mary’s Deus ex machina advice…brilliant!

    Great podcast guys. But can you do middles please. I’m at the 45% mark and I’m flagging.

    Middles, middles, middles.

    How do you bridge the gap from act 1 to act 2 and get to the good bit?

    My protag is just coasting. I’m not an outliner, so I’m currently writing blind, with a blindfold in a really, really dark place and my eyeballs just plopped out and rolled away…they make a squelchy marble noise, in case you’re wondering.


  11. I’m struggling with this right now. I’m re-writing a book from a first draft on my blog right now. I originally wrote up to the end but not the end itself. While I had something in mind, by the time I got there it just didn’t feel right, so it’s still dangling there, taunting me. I still don’t know how I’m going to end it, but this ‘cast gives me some helpful ideas. In particular, I think I may just go ahead and write it anyway as suggested and see how it falls out and go from there. Once again, thanks for the timely advice!

  12. Psst, Mike Barker – thanks for the link. Very useful.

    Just finished an online writing retreat and I think I’m back in the game…for now….

  13. Really great cast. I’m so glad that I have this resource I can come to whenever I find myself in a predicament. Thank you all for doing this!

  14. One thing I used to do, to help me with endings is to right a beginning, and then write a logical ending. And then write down the necessary steps to get to the ending. Then again ending it isn’t as much of an issue for me, as just finishing it by continuing.

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