When I’m nearing the end of a book I love, I can’t help myself — I start reading faster and faster, gulping down words as quickly as possible, until I don’t even notice that I’m turning pages, until I don’t even realize that I’m reading words and not just absorbing Story directly into my brain.
When I wrote my first book, I assumed that writing the ending would work the same way. All that momentum I’d built up, all that unresolved tension…I assumed that I’d be galloping towards “The End” at breakneck speed, fingers flying across my keyboard, meals and cats forgotten in the flurry of words.
For me, writing goes slower and slower near the end of a book. All that weaving together of Story into one great culmination of internal and external arcs… it’s kind of hard. “Swimming through molasses” is how I hear lots of writers describe it. Every sentence is a struggle, every completed sentence a victory.
But I think there’s another time dilation at work with novel endings…at least for me.
Because the reader is experiencing the ending so quickly, I feel like I need to slow down the action, to spend more time describing each moment of it. I can’t afford to have the reader overlook an important detail or insight or character revelation. It’s my last and only chance to bring everything together. Quick endings feel abrupt, and abrupt rarely feels satisfying.
How about you? Do you experience any sort of time dilation at the end of a novel — either as a reader or a writer? Or…is it just me?
10 thoughts on “The Time Dilation of Novel Endings”
Writing the last ten or fifteen percent flies by for me. It's at the two-thirds point or so that everything really…really…bogs.
I don't outline before I start writing a book, and two-thirds is about where all these disparate storylines and character aspects need to stop diverging and start aiming toward the ending. But I don't know how or why any of that will happen.
Once I figure out that part, and know where I'm going, it speeds up.
I usually know how the book will end, and I *still* slow down. I'm very jealous that you get the speeding up effect — that's how it *should* work, in my opinion.
I wish it slowed down for me. The initial rush to finish is a rush, and then there are the rewrites…that's where I slow everything down and tie everything in together.
But I love your endings, so you're definitely doing something right!!!
Thank you!!! There is certainly a TON of rewriting in any case. I think it’s almost impossible to get an ending right the first time — it’s just such a complicated and important beast.
Since I'm one of those who won't start a script unless I know my ending 100%, I find that it does go faster for me at the end. It's the second act where I tend to grind to a halt and sometimes have to drag the story kicking and screaming to the climax.
Oh, I'm not saying the 2nd act isn't — what did you call it? Death Valley? — but it's still nothing compared to the slowness of the ending for me. The Denouement usually goes quickly, but those last few sentences of the climax — absolutely torturous!
Perfect topic timing for me Jenn. This is exactly where I'm at in my novel and while I know exactly where it is going, I feel like I'm drudging through quicksand on each and every page. At least I now know I'm not the only one who feels this way.
Oh, yes. I feel your pain!! All you can do is trudge, however slowly, and eventually you'll get there.
And then I'll buy you a drink! :-D
Damon Knight once said that the more emotional freight a scene was carrying…and endings by definition carry a lot of emotional freight…the slower you have to go. He used a metaphor akin to traveling in a car at 60 mph and you notice only so much detail. Slow to 25 mph to look for a parking place and suddenly you notice a lot more. Park the car and get out and walk, and you notice a lot more. It takes writing time to evoke all that extra material as you slow down for the climax. If that makes sense.
Nice, Jim — and I really like that driving metaphor!
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