Since I have begun work outlining the second book in my fantasy/adventure series, it seems this is as good an opportunity to make this post as any. It has been said the most difficult part of any story to come up with is the ending. It is my humble opinion that whoever came up with that is full of it.
Honestly, the ending of a story never gave me any trouble. It is in many ways the perfect mood setter for any narrative. You can sum up the entire feel of a story often by reading the last few pages or watching the last few minutes. It is for this reason some of the most famous bits of great literature and cinema are found in endings. Boo Radley revealing himself in To Kill a Mockingbird, Rhett finally walking out on Scarlet in Gone with the Wind, or even Norman Bates sitting alone in a padded cell in Psycho. Everything you need to know about the story is there, learning to understand the unknown, a tale of love that is no more, and a man that has lost his mind, all in the space of a few seconds or words.
Since that is the case, an ending is usually among the first things to come to me upon a story’s conception. My fantasy/adventure epic is no exception.
When I wrote my first draft all the way back in what must have been 2008 or 2009, Never Heroes it was a much different, far weaker tale about three boys named Derek, Matthew and Jake living in the midwest who, by some random phenomenon, are transferred to a magical realm. With only Matthew’s 45 automatic to keep them safe from the swords and sorcery that surround them, the three band together to find some way back home. They make a few friends along the way who try to aid them in their journey.
This first version is a far cry from the tale of a dragon who finds himself in the role of unlikely hero. Originally, the dragon who would later become the protagonist was but a supporting player. More interesting still was he was not a lone dragon as now, but part of a collective of 10 dragons. I may have overdone it on that one. Many other things would change. Derek would later become River the Flatlander, Matthew would later become Blondie the orc professor, and Jake would later become Hunter the elven wizard
But there is one thing that didn’t change from those earlier drafts, and that was the ending. It was a simple wordless exchange between the red dragon and Derek that summed up their relationship, and helped me find the story’s soul. It isn’t a very long exchange, taking place in the space of a few seconds, and on the page it can be summed up in a single sentence. In that sentence though is everything the story is. It is nothing short of the perfect ending for the saga of my fire-breathing protagonist and his cohorts.
No. The ending is not the most difficult part. The most difficult part is getting there.
The book I have written is the first in a planned series of four books. I broke down the story as much as I could without losing any essentials for character and plot, and the smallest number I could come up with was 4. The 4th book incidentally is the one I have the clearest vision for, and I fully expect it to be the best book in the series. The two leading up to it by contrast I am very nervous about.
That is two books to get through before the 4th one. Will I be able to hold everyone’s attention on the long journey to the ending? I will certainly have to pull out a lot of tricks to keep the story’s momentum going. Which doesn’t mean there is any shortage of ideas or opportunities or plot threads to open and close. The real question is how to organize it all in a way so the books don’t come out as a jumbled mess. The first Never Heroes book is an introduction to the characters and their world, a pretty simple story in comparison to what the sequels will be.
The ending can be great, but the journey there needs to be worth it. If it isn’t, the reader may turn back.
I view writing a book like climbing a mountain. You only have one place to go, but if you pick the wrong path, it will send you tumbling down.