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As the current fantasy novel progressed, the original planned ending was experiencing a kind of natural drift. Characters often do the unexpected. The halfway mark of the manuscript was weeks in the past, and the trajectory of the narrative kept moving in the new direction. I discovered after one particularly character-evolving chapter that not only was the original ending no longer possible without serious changes, but a different potential ending was emerging as a hard-to-ignore option.
In stubborn fashion, I put off the decision for another ten thousand words. By the time I called a temporary halt, each new action felt like I was stretching the future of the narrative to the breaking point. Three things got the story back on track:
1 - I read (without editing) the manuscript. It’s harder than I care to admit, but experiencing the story in the same way and at the same speed as a reader gives a perspective hard to get in any other way. Following hard on the heels of the readthrough, I put together a synopsis for my own reference including a list of questions about how each ending would impact the current story and any potential future stories if this were to grow into a series.
2 - With my favorite editor, I did a multi-hour story review. Having to explain your novel in some detail is beneficial all by itself, but another writer asking questions helps break out of self-limiting patterns. Not to mention, the challenges another writer will throw down. It’s amazing how any question starting with “why don’t you just…” can both thrill and deflate.
3 - The creation of a “potentials” post-it wall took an entire day. It started as notes on character development, open questions requiring resolution, and the components of both the new and original endings. Three columns emerged; yes, no, and maybe. The notes tripled before discarding one. In the end, dozens wound up in the yes column, and only handful were exiled.
The columns of notes are the result I needed to push on toward the end. My words per day more than doubled for the weeks following. But, it would not have been any near as effective (or possible?) without having done all three.