and then we came to the end…

17 Dec

Today I’m honored to post another of Diane Sherlock’s blog postings. This one comes from her December 17th, 2011 post. It’s a great look at endings, something I talked about a few weeks back. I like her take on it. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Also, you really need to buy her book, Growing Chocolate. It’s five bucks for a full-length novel (201 pages). Great value, but more importantly, great quality. I’ve had the privilege of publishing several of her stories at The Citron Review. You’d do well to pick it up. And now, without further delay, Diane Sherlocks’s

and then we came to the end…

…but not of the blog! No, the end of your novel. How do you know when you’re finished? Last night, I had dinner with a group of writers and one reminded me I’d said I knew I’d finished my novel when I was so sick of the thing, I couldn’t go over it one more time. Well, there is that. But there’s also experience and feedback from your readers.

If you’ve gone over your manuscript 10-20 times, corrected the grammar, polished on multiple levels (sentences, paragraphs, chapters, sections, plus imagery and sensory details) checked for your personal writing tics (phrases, adverbs or adjectives that you lean on too heavily – do a word check for “just,” “really,” “suddenly” and so on; as my friend said, those are the “ums” of the literary world) and read the entire manuscript out loud, you might be finished or close to it. If your readers light up, saying you have something, that you’re close, and you trust them to tell you the truth and not what you want to hear, you can send excerpts to literary journals and see what kind of response you get. If you can afford it, hire a professional editor, preferably someone who’s taught literature and composition. Do your best to assemble a team who will inspire you to bring your A game, who will push you to do better and do it with kindness and generosity. Do the same for them if you’re exchanging writing/reading favors.

The final test comes from Rob Roberge – does your story reach a point where it could open up in a new way? That is where you want to stop. That will protect you from the “tie it all up with a bow” pat ending. You certainly don’t want a sentence – much less a paragraph – that sums up the book or the plot or the theme. Trust your reader.

By the way, the novel, And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is a fun read.



Diane Sherlock is the author of four novels, Dead Weight, Willful Ignorance, Growing Chocolate, and the upcoming Wrestling Alligators. Her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, scissors and spackle, The Citron Review, Mo+th (Bombshelter), and Bird in the Hand: Risk & Flight (Outrider).

She is one of the co-founders and fiction editors for, a site for writers to annotate books in terms of craft and maintains a blog on the craft of fiction writing. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles in 2009. Born in La Jolla, CA, she currently lives in Los Angeles. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter @Diane_Sherlock

5 thoughts on “and then we came to the end…”

  • Ive found that I wont finish a story because I dint like the way it would have ended. This way I start over and just try again. Eventually I get so frustrated I just stop lol bad habits I guess

  • Endings and beginnings are one of the harder aspects of fiction. I’m pretty sure I know where I want my story to end, but that’s not entirely up to me. Seeing as the story has a mind of its own, it’s likely going to end when it feels like. Mind you, I don’t intend to let the thing ramble on into eternity like a mad wizard, but to give it some breathing room instead of a set-in-stone ending. If it ends where I believe it shall, that’s fine. If something I didn’t foresee happens somewhere in my plot and it changes where the piece decides to end its flight and fold its wings, then that’s fine too.
    Writing an ending is a tricky thing. But if we all completely avoided doing something because it’s difficult, then a vast majority of us would never have finished elementary school.
    Don’t be afraid to let the story end. Just make sure it ended in the right place at the right time.

  • Trying to end a story can be very annoying and very weird at the same time. depending on how you write your story, it may take you alote of time to end it. considering if your one of the types that consistenly come up new ideas for your story things to add or to grow plot. sometimes you may have an idea of how you want to end it but it becomes very hard to put into words.

  • Ending a story can be a little bit of a challenge.
    Before the one that I am currently working on at the moment, I had another story that started off good, but it began to go nowhere.
    With my current novel, I have a general thought of the ending; however, I am nowhere near actually writing it out.
    Once I am able to have the time I know that I’ll reach that point eventually.
    For now I will continue looking for more ways of writing a great story.

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