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I'm so close to finishing my first book, but I'm having so much trouble coming up with a conclusion. I know what needs to happen, but I just can't seem to finish it.

I'm not sure if it's writer's block, a subconscious fear of finishing it/it not being perfect, or if I need to rethink my planned conclusion.

I've tried everything I know to get past this: skipping scenes and writing what I already know is gonna happen, taking breaks, going back, reading my work from the beginning, planning it out, etc., but I'm stuck!

Anybody who has written a book and finished it, do you have any tips for me?

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    I respect that you have already tried everything (practical) I would have suggested…. All I have left is maybe a frame challenge that the ending is just not working out. If it isn't fun/interesting for you, it probably isn't fun/interesting for a reader either. If you know what's suppose to happen but it just doesn't feel right, analyze your story for theme, and nail the theme hard in the ending as a new normal, AFTER you've resolved the climax and plot.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 16:52

4 Answers 4

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I've finished three novels. You might try story analysis.

Instead of just reading your book, try to relate it to three act structure. You can find some fairly detailed versions of this that also break the acts down into several beats. Personally I consider four equal acts; I, IIa, IIb, III.

I would stress that this three act structure is not some dictate from Shakespeare or something, it is actually a pattern distilled from hundreds of successful stories, by analysis. This is, roughly, what makes stories 'work', it is some kind of reflection of the human experience.

Your trepidation to finish may come from your subconscious, perhaps you have not met an implicit promise you made to the reader. Try to figure out what went wrong with your story.

Stories open with describing the hero's normal world.

In the middle of Act I some incident, by chance or mistake, leads them to a problem.

Initial attempts to solve the problem fail, the problem intensifies, and by the end of Act I, the hero must leave their normal world.

Your story doesn't have to follow this formula precisely, but roughly the kicks in face demanded by the three act structure are necessary to build sympathy toward your character, so in contrast their happiness means something later.

Whether you are a discovery writer (like me), or follow a written plot, chances are your story follows the basic three act structure, it is the natural form of successful stories.

As you write a story, you make some implied promises to your reader. These can also be subverted, but eventually some of those promises have to pay off. The villain (even if not a person but nature or society) is defeated, the original problem that drove our hero out of her normal world is solved, she either returns to her normal world and resumes her life, or she forges a new normal that promises (for the reader) to be satisfactory. She has romance, or she is reunited with her sister, or whatever. The bad guys are busy turning into dust, or at least have moved on.

Don't just read your story. Analyse it, scene by scene. What is this scene FOR? What change does it accomplish, in her thinking, in her knowledge, in unraveling some piece of the problem.

Sherlock gets three scenes leading him to his primary suspect, and one confrontation that convinces him he's got the wrong lad. He's shocked. Back to square one. Kicked in the face, metaphorically speaking. A scene of frustration, to show Sherlock is suffering. But then, recovery -- A realization -- If that lad didn't do it, then ...

Each scene should advance something. A plot, or subplot. It can be an important character trait of one of your characters: Often this is a promise that this trait is important. We show off Sherlock's superhuman memory and attention to details very early, as part of the Normal World, even in some relatively inconsequential setting. We do that because the plausibility of the entire story relies upon those superhuman abilities, we can't spring these abilities on readers as a surprise halfway through the book. It's why every sSperman movie begins with Superman and quickly switches to Clark Kent in the first few minutes (or vice versa), we don't follow Clark Kent halfway through the story and then find out he's Superman.

If I have writer's block I presume it is my subconscious telling me that something does not fit, something is wrong or inconsistent. Maybe it has become boring, I have been too easy on my hero. Maybe it isn't turning out right, and I need to rewrite something. I turn to story analysis, even writing a scene breakdown of what has happened so far, why I felt the scene was important and what it accomplished, perhaps in analysis later I can connect that to the story.

It doesn't have to be complicated. What happened in the scene? Why is that needed, or what does the reader know now they did not know before? What are the ramifications of the scene? As a reader, does this scene make you expect something later (i.e. is there an implicit promise in the scene?)

Good luck.

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If in doubt, EDIT:

You are going to have a vast amount of editing to do before your first novel is done. I could give you lots of advise, but for now, since you're stuck, I would go to the start of your story and start working my way through the story, fixing spelling, changing scenes you realized you wanted a different way, and adding emotional content, color, descriptions, and so forth.

Some folks say, "Don't edit until you're done!" but you may be doubting the existing content. Reading through and analyzing everything will either reassure you of the quality of the story, or reveal to yourself what the underlying issue is that's bothering you. It will re-acquaint you with the overall flow of the story and hopefully get your creative juices flowing.

But the editing will need to get done anyway. I don't even look for beta readers until I've edited AT LEAST once, since it's embarrassing to hand people crap.

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I have not finished a novel, but I’ve finished several short stories.

There is no secret. It doesn’t matter how you finish your novel. Write the ending badly. It’s entirely okay to feel slightly ashamed and even incredibly incompetent as the first ending you write.

Put the words to paper. That is all that matters

Once you’ve finished your novel, the real work begins. Once it is finished you can start revision. Until it is finished, you can’t start revision. It is that simple.

Revision is where you take that draft and give it a good hard critique. Maybe share it with people, to gauge their reactions to what you’ve written. Then, you fix it. And, this is not fixing typos or spelling errors. This is fixing the story so you are telling your best version of the story you are capable of writing. And, you are doing from the whole perspective of the story — from Prologue to Appendices.

That is when you will see how your story needs to change so that the start fits the middle and leads you to a satisfying conclusion.

After you’ve typed those words ‘The End’ and you are revising your heart out, and you get stuck and can’t figure out what to do, then you’ll know that you are looking at a mistake. And, that is great. Because it means you’ve uncovered something in your story that isn’t working right. And, it will usually be somewhere prior to the thing you don’t know how to fix. You look for and understand it and figure out how to figure out how to fix it, then you’ll know how to fix the thing that stumped you in the first place.

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Congratulations, you've almost finished your first draft.

It may feel like you're close to the goal line and once you punch in that final key on the keyboard the book is, or is supposed to be, done.

That's pretty far from the truth... (sorry!)

In my experience, you've come anywhere between about halfway and one-tenth of the way...

This is the first draft, it's allowed to be crappy... or, well, at least not ready-for-publication-and-finished perfect. (And if you're a perfectionist your novels will always feel crappy and you'll have to learn to deal with it...)

It's ok that you don't have the "perfect" ending for your book. You're not supposed to know what's perfect while writing the first draft.

I suggest that you finish the book with the best ending you can muster. If you feel like you're writing crap, tell yourself you'll fix it in editing. (Because that's exactly what you'll have to do to make it your best effort...)

Once finished, put the novel away for an as long time you need to start to forget a bit about it (we're talking weeks, months, some authors even put it away for a year).

Yes, you need distance to the novel in order to not only let it simmer in your unconscious, but also in order to see it with fresh eyes. And right after finishing the first draft is the perfect place to take that pause...

Perhaps do some other writing in between, or just relax and take care of all the things that may have been neglected while finishing the story.

Then pick it up again and read it from the first to the last page, trying, as much as you can, to capture that first reader impression.

Read fast, take limited notes, and read all the way to the finish before you start changing the text.

Most likely you'll realize things (both good and bad) about the book you did not, could not realize while writing the first draft. Including the ending!

Once you've read the first draft, you start editing.

If you don't know what to do while putting the novel away, I suggest reading James Scott Bell's "Revision and Self-Editing for Publication." It contains practical advice and information both on writing and on editing the first draft.

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