hi! so i finished most of my nanowrimo novel but i’m really struggling with the ending now. i had an outline when i started but the novel has changed so much as i wrote that the ending i had originally doesn’t really fit and i almost feel like my conflict has no real solution now. i’ve tried giving my novel space and i still feel just as lost. any advice to solving a conflict that seems unsolvable? thanks!

Hi! That’s actually a problem that a lot of writers have at some point in their career, so try not to feel too bad about it, okay?

There are a lot of different types of conflicts, but they can be boiled down into three categories: person vs. person, person vs. nature, and person vs. self.

What is it about the conflict that has caused it to have no real solution? Is it that a character has changed too much? If so, can you add a different character to fill that same role?

Has the environment changed too much? If so, you might be writing a different story altogether! If you’re trying to write, say, a Hunger Games fanfic, and you somehow end up in the world of the Jetsons, it could really tear up your entire concept. How can you bring it back to the original location? Can you break the story into pieces where they go back to where they should be?

If the government is involved in your plot, perhaps you could have someone new take over–violently.

And if it’s person vs. self, then you need to take the time to understand why that conflict doesn’t work anymore. Did they solve a problem too early on? Does the final battle rely on them having a weakness that has already been resolved?

I think what would help is to do what cheaters do when they can’t figure out those little mazes on the backs of children’s menus: start from the end.

This is actually a great technique that I used when I was teaching. It’s called “scaffolding.”

If you’re not sure why, pull up some pictures of scaffolding and humor me, all right?

When you are building, say, a skyscraper, you need to have scaffolding, right? You have to create a net of scaffolding that supports the building. If you don’t know what the building will look like when it’s complete, the scaffolding would be all out of place and wouldn’t end up keeping the building together.

To do scaffolding, all you have to do is work backwards. Pick precisely what you want the ending to be. If you can’t do that, make a list of no more than 3 endings that would be acceptable to you.

Then, ask yourself, “How do we get here?”

If the conflict needs to be resolved by someone who has a certain magical ability, then you need to ask yourself how a person with that ability could find themselves at that crucial point.

Maybe it’s unrealistic. So you have to come up with a bunch of different plot points to get them there.

Maybe your magician has ADHD and keeps getting distracted from their destination. So introduce a character who helps them keep focus.

How would that character end up in the same place as the magician?

If this sounds too confusing, then I think you need to evaluate your characters more! If you understand your characters really well, you’ll immediately see the answer to my questions as you read them.

So I’ve collected some relevant posts from my archive that may help you out. It really depends on what type of conflict you’re trying to solve, so if you feel like these resources don’t help, send me another message asking something more specific so I can help further. 🙂

  1. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/121627886169/hey-do-you-have-any-advice-about-writing-a-novel
  2. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/136824730334/30-questions-you-should-ask-your-character
  3. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/128647056829/plotlinehotline-plotting-a-realistic-story-from-a
  4. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/110084084166/what-makes-a-character-unnecessary
  5. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/138554351036/plot-a-month-w1d6-plot-sketch
  6. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/96119396642/cranky-crustaceans-pupukachoo
  7. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/138623745834/i-have-an-assignment-where-i-have-to-write-a-scene
  8. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/134343377432/your-characters-personality
  9. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/106334576997/wordsandchocolate-i-made-a-slideshow-about-how
  10. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/133874418111/by-giving-a-character-something-to-hide-a-secret
  11. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/108658856138/character-creation

And here is my personal character-creation form that I use when I start a big project:

http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/post/109315588144/character-creation-form

In addition, what I’m doing for my current project is a little bit hardcore, so it may not help, but I’ll give it to you anyway in case it would!

Okay, so my current baby is continuing an older short story of mine into a novella. This novella will tie into the main book series I’m working on.

Because I’m methodical and prefer to work chronologically, I basically started with a crappy outline.

Remember: a crappy outline is better than no outline.

Here’s the simplified version with my sarcastic commentary:

  • short story takes place first (thanks, Sherlock)
  • travel to fight [Name] (duh, that’s where the plot was going anyway)
  • at least one of them dies (so helpful)
  • child is born before or after defeat* (that really helps, yep)
  • [Name] reveals his plan (can’t say more without spoiling it)
  • hint of baby’s future (that tells me a whole lot)
  • *mother dies at birth due to curse (that answers which one dies, I guess)
  • maybe they get engaged along the way (will they, won’t they?)
  • what are the ramifications of [character who dies in the short story]’s death? (great question! no answer)
  • hint of [this other character]?
  • what about a hint of [that other character]?
  • maybe we could see [so-and-so] and [that other guy] at some point? (how long is this book supposed to be??)

And that’s it. It’s the worst outline ever. Seriously. I’m not embarrassed, though, because it gave me a place to start.

The second thing I did was get a different sheet of paper and make a column for each of the characters I intended to include: one for the main female, one for the main male, one for the bad guy, and one for the baby (who grows up to be in the other books).

So then I started with what I knew. The main female got pregnant when she finally reconciled with the main male.

Hmmm, where to go from there? I started thinking about the implications of her pregnancy. Would she even be able to fight the final battle? Does she die at birth in order to give the baby an appropriately traumatic backstory?

I decided that she’d be too pregnant–and that the bad guy wouldn’t kill her right away (see the curse in the crappy outline). So that means the main male has to die at the fight.

Now that they’ve reconciled, what is the main male going to do? I realized that he’s pretty shallow and self-absorbed, so I came up with some little plot points for him that focused around that.

I also wrote down which towns they were from.

Then I looked at the bad guy. He had to defeat the two main characters so his plans could begin with his son. I wrote that down and the other plot points that had been determined in advance.

And then I looked at the baby, and I decided that his middle name would be after the character who died in the short story.

This is about where I realized that I could do a LOT more with what I had.

What if the bad guy has a daughter (okay, a very specific daughter that’s a major player in the main book series) with a superiority complex and doesn’t like being left out of his evil plan?

And what if the main female encourages her to follow her dreams?

Which leads to her [SPOILER] and [SPOILER] and eventually does the major catalyst of the first full book.

But the bad guy’s son is really important since he is an important figure in the second full book. So he needs to have a personality and an agenda. So I started thinking about what he would do while the protagonists are in transit to the bad guy’s lair. And then I came up with some stuff that would happen with him while the protagonists are resting before the big battle.

Okay, so obviously, that is not in chronological order, which is NOT how I roll. So I made timelines for each of them. Barf. I know. I’m a weirdo.

I drew a timeline for each of the characters, all on the same page so I can see comparisons of where each event stands.

THEN I took another piece of paper and started writing how everything would fold together. You can’t have all of the subplots happen at once–they have to intermingle with the main plot.

So I wrote down the main points of the short story and then started putting things down in order–after all, my timelines were on the page right next to it!

I finished off the timeline and then started doing the math to figure out how old everyone is, because that’s important to the plots of the main books.

Lastly, I spent my time finishing reading this book: http://www.amazon.com/Chunky-Method-Handbook-Step-Step/dp/1942505027 (I’m not trying to plug or anything, but this book is REALLY great for working out your issues with scheduling your writing)

And I took notes (YES, I am THAT loser) and made a chart for my writing schedule. If I write 700 words a day, 5 days a week, I can reach my target word count in just over 5 weeks! Seriously. (It’s a novella, so most books using this method will be much longer!)

I’ve been working on it nearly every day now and only have about 18,000 words to go.

But enough about me! I like to work methodically and in chronological order, but there are a LOT of writers who don’t.

If you don’t want to write your story chronologically, then writing down your timelines can help you keep track of what scenes occur where/when. Then you just have to put them in the right order!

Writing chronologically is really great because it helps you keep your characters consistent. If you write the last scene first, then you might find that your main character has gone through some changes that require you to rewrite their dialogue and narration. I’d rather revise the whole thing at the same time instead of revising each scene because I realize that the character has actually grown.

Anyway, I’m sorry that this answer ended up being really complicated, but your question is a complex one that deserves to be addressed in as clear a way as I can. 🙂


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