Rewriting endings

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Rewriting stories is always the hardest part for me. Editing your own work is always difficult. Not the proof-reading or checking the spelling – although there, too, it’s always difficult to read what you’ve written instead of what you intended to write – but the fundamental plotline or needing to know a character better (or less!). As a writer, you know a lot more than the reader needs to but communicating it, or holding it back, is a really difficult balance. There are other reasons for rewriting as well, one of which I’m working with at the moment.

I have a story that I wrote several years ago, about a girl and the way she viewed her relationship and her life. Quite dark and depressing, with a deeply ambivalent ending that a lot of people, when I asked their opinion, disliked. At the time I thought it was the only way for the story to end but in the last six months I’ve revisited it and although I think the ending works, I now want to experiment with changing it to make it less dark, less disturbing, and a little more hopeful. Is that reasonable? Should you spend so much time on the story and then go back and change it later? I guess that’s the question – is the ending you originally decide the only one that makes sense within the existing story. To some extent my attitude towards it has changed. I feel desperately sad for her and want her to have a better ending. It also reflects a change in me, I think, to being more positive and optimistic generally. Yet somehow, it feels almost like I’m cheating at a game by revising it. Then again think about many great novels* – there are multiple endings and revisions. In one version of Great Expectations, Pip and Estella meet and have quite a sad conversation about her abusive husband and her suffering, and in the other it’s strongly suggested that they will marry. Why shouldn’t you revise something after it’s ‘finished’?

I suppose the question I need to ask myself is: does the new ending fit the story as it stands, and is it seamless? If the answer to those is both yes, then I think there shouldn’t be an issue with it.

* I was going to write that I’m not comparing myself to them, but clearly I am and, to be honest, who better to aspire to?!

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2 thoughts on “Rewriting endings

  1. I think you have to accommodate yourself to the reader against your better judgement sometimes. Apparently Dickens disliked the final choice of ending to Great Expectations but went with it for the sake of his readers. The truth can take many forms.

  2. lottibrown

    I do agree, but I think at the same time it has to be a truth that you can live with. I suppose it’s like hearing someone tell you something from a different point of view; if you don’t accept it, then don’t change it, but if you sit with it and think that it could work, then use it.

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