Most writers are pretty proud, tickled, giddy, and relieved when they type those last six letters of the current work. Yes, I'm talking about "The End."
But, the question raised is — How do you know when you can type 'The End' on your manuscript? How do you know you're finished?
A friend of mine has a simplistic method. She will start by typing the title and byline, skip a line, type the following words: Once upon a time, hits return, types: And they lived happily ever after. She then does another line skip and types "The End" and claims her 'template' is ready. She fills in everything between the first line of her story to the final line. My friend claims the hard part has been accomplished. What does she mean? Getting the right title. Having an opening line. Having a closing line. And yes, getting to those two words — The End. As she puts it: Now it is only a matter of filling in the blank middle with whatever comes to mind.
I, personally, don't agree with that method. It leaves too many options open to failure.
When a writer types "The End" at the finish, s/he claims that all the story lines and threads have been tied up in neat bows. The story is finished. There are no questions left to answer.
Like always, there are caveats and exceptions to every rule and this is no different. Series, whether it is only two books or a collection of over one dozen books, don't tie up every thread line. Usually there is one or two underlying themes or plot lines that need to be continued. An example would be "Star Wars" when Luke is being trained as a Jedi. His training is temporarily put on hold at Ben's death but, in the next book, Luke moves forward with his Jedi training under a new master, Yoda. Also, the fight to destroy the Empire's stranglehold is another thread that continues between the books. Still, there are many little plot lines that are tied up nicely for the reader. That is what a series is about. Attempt to make each book a stand alone but at the same time, continue a plot into the next book. Of course, the nice thing about writing a series — an author gets to type "The End" at the end of each book, even if the plot isn't finished.
So, to figure out if you can officially type "The End" in your work, you must do the following:
Track each plot line. Mark it, write it down, in some manner, know what each plot is and how it will resolve — either in this work, or the next.
Track each thread. Threads can be plot lines or just a stream of thought … consider a romantic interlude. You don't want the scene to be a "one-night stand," but also, you don't want your character to be bogged down with a clingy affair. Consider the illustrious affairs of Captain Kirk in the Star Trek series. He can become emotionally involved with a woman, but his true love is the ship, the Enterprise, and he always comes back to this command, leaving the affair to linger in memory.
You had a story to tell. Did you tell it? Is it complete in your mind?
Some people feel they need to have a certain number of words to be able to type "The End" on the manuscript. I use the old adage that I feel applies here: A tale will establish its length, be it flash fiction, a short story, a novella, a novel, or a series. The story dictates not only the length but also when the author can type those last six letter: THE END.
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~ COMMENTS ~
I never type "The End" as I don't believe the story is ever really finished. Of course, most of mine are in a series and my characters are yelling at me to tell more of their particular story. I do believe that a novel in a series should stop with a satisfactory conclusion and not leave readers hanging. Perhaps the next one starts a year, five, or fifty years from the last sentence, so give the reader what they paid for, an ending. I guess I don't want to type "The End" because I don't wish to let those characters go. I always hope to visit them again and find out what they are doing.
I don't want to type "The End" when I finish, for fear that I might not be done. But I've found that publishers seem to feel that they may have lost pages if they don't see the words "The End" on the final page of the manuscript. Of course, I feel giddy when I send out my work since I'm pretty sure it is finished... even if it is a series. I always make sure that the book is complete, for the most part.
It's true - it's so satisfying to type "The End." These are good tips, but I often struggle with the balance between tying up all the loose threads, and dragging the story on past where it's interesting. For my story recounting my father-in-law's experiences in the Second World War, I realized that the story came in three phases, and that required three separate stories. And while it's pretty simple to divide the events chronologically, there are some over-arching themes about the war, the history of the changing sides and strategies, about communism and fascism, that feature more or less in all phases. Where to put some of the background information about shifting borders and alliances has been a long internal debate for me.
I figure if you can't tie up the ends in the last few pages, then you haven't come to the end. When I wrote my Amish novel, my agent had me yank the epilogue because it didn't allow for a book 2 to occur. In my folly, I put some of the epilogue back when I self-published. It was a mistake and I now realize that since I'm writing book 2. Story threads are tricky.