Here you are writing your story; you have a great introduction, a cast of characters you love, an intriguing plot… and then the ideas run out. You’ve crafted your antagonist all too well, until they’re apparently unbeatable; your protagonists get into a situation you can’t get them out of; the well of inspiration is just running dry, and you don’t know where to go next. What started out as a compelling storyline fizzles out midway through.
But (if you’ll excuse the phrase) the story doesn’t have to end there!
Here are some ways to get your story to the finish line, whatever your writing dilemma and whatever your writing style.
Plan Your Ending First
Often, ideas run out when you’re figuring out your plot as you go along (there’s nothing inherently wrong with this; spontaneity can be a great tool for some). To help avoid this pitfall, try working backwards. Storytelling isn’t a purely linear process, and it’s absolutely fine to plan and/or write things out of chronological sequence. While different writing techniques will work best for each author, those of my stories which I (Sarah) have completed are, almost without exception, ones for which I had a general plan for where the plot was heading long before my characters actually got there. I’ve been known to literally write my last paragraph and just have it sitting at the end of my document while I figure out and fill in everything else.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so if you can come up with your beginning and your ending, then the middle just needs to fill in how you get from A to point B. (And of course, this being a story, feel free to add as many curves as you like along the way!)
Halfway along, you may find that your originally planned ending no longer fits, and that’s totally fine—no one’s saying you can’t change your mind. Even then, you’ll have learned something valuable which (hopefully) will help you figure out the ending that, ultimately, does work.
Pick Your Ending Type
Just as there’s no single “correct” path to your story’s ending, there’s also no single “correct” ending. The urge to tie up all your loose ends can be very strong—or maybe you have the opposite urge, to leave things hanging. Or both. Neither technique is inherently “right” or “wrong,” and both have merit; tying up loose ends can be very satisfying for the reader and leave no doubt of whether the story is over, but it’s also fine to leave some things open-ended—after all, in real life, the story is never truly over. “What-ifs” are a good way to appeal to the reader’s imagination (not to mention sequel potential, if that’s something you’re thinking about!).
One writer identifies six ways to end a story, with certain characteristics: Resolved, Unresolved, Ambiguous, Unexpected, Tied, and Expanded (read more at https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-end-a-story/). You can decide to use any of these ending types, some combination thereof, or perhaps you’ll come up with something that isn’t on the list at all. As with the rest of your story, what kind of ending you decide to go with is completely up to you. Regardless, deciding what kind of ending you’re going for is often the first step to actually getting to that ending.
Seek Peer Input
If you’re comfortable sharing your writing with others (friends, family, members of a peer writing group, even NMG!), a fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference. Most writers tend to also be readers, so you’ve probably had experience being partway through a book and trying to guess what’s going to happen next. Of course, the best plot twists will surprise the reader… but they also won’t come out of thin air. Just because you’re out of ideas at this point in your story doesn’t mean everyone else is.
Show someone what you have written so far, and ask: What do you think will happen next? If you were one of these characters, what would you do? If you were the writer, what would you do?
They might not have any ideas that work for your story, but if they do, it might just be enough to get you over that speed bump. Besides, psychologically speaking, in a case of writer’s block, hearing ideas—any ideas, even ones you don’t like—can sometimes be enough to help get the creative wheels turning again. (If the mind is outraged enough by one idea, perhaps it will come up with one it likes better; and just verbalizing the question can help get your own thoughts rolling.)
Of course, in the event that your peer reader has a thought that you do like and decide to go with, make sure they’re okay with you including their ideas in your work—and give credit where credit is due.
Especially with a large-scale project, it’s definitely going to take time, effort, and frustration to see this through to the end. Many of us authors also tend to be very self-critical, which doesn’t exactly help. Don’t let discouragement stop you from writing to your goal! Having a story you’re motivated to write helps a lot with this point (read more here: Sister to Sister: Story Motivation). You may even have to start from scratch a couple times to get your story where it needs to be—I (Katharine) have been working on my story for almost 10 years, and, needless to say, it’s had its fair share of restarts. It’s also key not to get too sidetracked by other story ideas. By all means, jot down what comes to mind to save for later, but if you have a hyperproductive imagination that keeps generating new ideas without churning out an ending, sometimes it’s necessary to put one idea temporarily on hold in order to focus on the other.
Give Yourself a Break
Nobody finishes everything they write. Many of us don’t even finish most of what we write. And that’s okay! If all else fails, and an ending is just not happening right now, don’t give up all hope. Let the story float around in the back of your mind, and revisit it every so often, but try not to dwell on it too much. Ideas can come at any time, and there’s only so much we can do to hurry them along. Take a breather, try turning to one of those other storylines that you avoided getting distracted by earlier on, and remember to appreciate your story and characters for their own sake, conclusion or lack thereof notwithstanding. :)
Writing done by Sarah and Katharine (but mostly Sarah)
Drawings done by Katharine