(A belated Olympics-related post. :-))
My favorite part of watching sports like diving or gymnastics is the landing at the end. That moment when, after flying through the air, one hits ground again. When an athlete lands an ending–somehow something in me lifts a little, and the flight becomes something more than it was before because of that perfect return to earth.
I feel that way about stories too. I’m a journey person, so a book is worth reading, to me, for the journey alone–but I still want to see the story land the ending. For me, a perfectly landed ending is one of the things that turns a good story into a great one. I wonder, sometimes, if what we feel as readers when an ending lands for us is anything like what a gymnast feels like when they land on the mat without stumbling, or what a diver feels when they slice straight through the water with barely a splash.
If I land the ending at all in a book–a subjective thing if there ever was one–it happens very late in the process. Through my first drafts, the landing is usually a fumbling thing–not just a slip on the mat or a splash in the water, but something that misses the mat or the water entirely. (Fortunately, this causes fewer and faster-healing injuries in writing than in gymnastics or diving.) That first ending, and the second, and the third–they’re all graceless training exercises. The landed ending comes later, after the months or years of work.
But the thing is, once you land an ending? You don’t get to stay there, anymore than you get to remain beneath the water or stand forever with your feet glued to the mat smiling at the judges. Whether you land the ending or not, actually, it’s eventually time to move on to a new routine and a new set of training exercises.
Beyond the ending, you have to go back to fumbling again. It’s just how it works.