Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

That Final Scene

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That Final Scene

One of the most challenging aspects of writing a novel is ending it.

An instructor once told me that a good ending will come off as both inevitable, and a surprise. Another told me that you must know how your novel ends before you begin writing it. As I sat down at my computer at 2:00am on a rainy September night and started on the first chapter of Poison Shy, I had nothing but a vague final scene in my head -- just an image, really, like a photograph or a painting. I didn't know if it was enough to go on, but I'd had a few drinks and was feeling reckless, uninhibited. I had my ending, and damned if I wasn't going to write my way towards it.

Besides the single image, I knew a few other things. I knew I didn't want to write a happy ending. Perhaps unfairly, I associated happy endings with novels by Nicholas Sparks, cheesy romantic comedies, and -- worst of the worst -- "feel good movies of the year". At the same time, however, I didn't want my ending to be so bleak as to plunge myself, and my potential readers, into a grim, existential depression. I wanted my ending to be overcast: sad but beautiful, gloomy but affecting. Most of all, I wanted it to be true -- not true-to-life, but true to my characters and their world. I wanted it to fit the story. Remember: when a novel ends, it ends for all the characters, not just the protagonist. There's bound to be somebody who's left miserable. Or dead.

Now, the kind of ending I'm talking about here is not how something ends -- whether or not loose ends are tied up, who lives or dies, who marries who, was the mystery solved, etcetera. What I'm talking about is a final scene. The last thing that happens or is said. The closing image or thought. The note on which you slap the covers together. The feeling in your gut as you stare off into space, contemplating the final words.

As I wrote Poison Shy, the story twisted and swerved along the way. Sometimes I wondered if I'd ever make it to the ending I had in mind or if I'd have to change it completely, based on new scenes I didn't expect to write but which turned out to be essential, or a certain character's actions that surprised me and put me off course. Ultimately, I got to keep my ending, almost exactly as I imagined it.

I would tell you what that ending is, but you'll have to read the book and find out for yourself. It's more fun that way, trust me.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Stacey Madden

Stacey Madden holds a BA from the University of Toronto and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. He lives in Toronto. Poison Shy (ECW Press) is his first novel.

Go to Stacey Madden’s Author Page