Why Writing the Last Chapter is the Most Difficult

Happy Endings

Real life can’t promise happy endings

A chapter is just a chapter isn’t it? I thought so, until I neared the end of my first draft and realised that the last chapter is a different beast entirely. I’d been excited about finishing the first draft, but as I started the last chapter I realised I had left too much unsaid.

Take all the Characters with You

As I worked through the book, I largely let it take me where it wanted to go, within the confines of my ‘big picture’ story. When you come to the end, however, everything has to draw to a satisfactory conclusion and all those subplots need to draw to a close.

It’s not that I don’t know how the story will end. It’s based on a true story, and so I’ve known the ending since before I started writing nearly four years ago. As I was writing Book 3, however, I knew I was focussing more on one side of the story than the other;  it just seemed to flow that way. Unfortunately that meant when I came to write about the final conflict, one of the protagonists had become a stranger to me. He’d been a major part of Books 1 and 2, but as the role of another character grew, he had faded into the background. As a result, I’ve spent the last month going though Book 3 bringing him back to life. There are several other minor characters who also need to be fleshed out. I now know that only when I’ve got everything set up, will the final chapter feel ready to write.

Things are Not always what they Seem

The other thing about the ending is that it has actually surprised me. That probably sounds odd given I’ve just said I’ve known for over four years how it would end, but I realise now that I only knew the big picture. So much happened in the final eighteen months of the book, that it is only now that the enormity of it has hit me.

When you casually read about an event in someone’s life, particularly when it took place over 100 years earlier, it’s easy to dismiss or trivialise. It’s only when you actually stop and delve into the detail that the real story starts to emerge. It’s one of the reasons I chose to write the story in the first place, but what I’ve learned over the last month is quite disturbing.

I’ve read that you shouldn’t end a book on a negative as readers like happy endings, but what if that’s how it happened? Does that mean you shouldn’t use it? I guess that’s a rhetorical question for me because I have no choice if I want to keep the book as true to the facts as I believe them to be, but it isn’t pleasant. I just need to make sure I can make it a satisfying read.

In my first blog, I said that one of the reasons I had become interested in family history was because my grandfather had been angry about a perceived family injustice. From what I know now, I suspect he didn’t know the half of it. All I can say is, I think that’s probably a very good thing.

Let me know how you find writing last chapters, if you have any hints or tips please share them in the comments.

About Val McBeath

Born and raised in Liverpool (UK), I live in Cheshire with husband, youngest daughter, and cat. In addition to family history, interests include rock music and Liverpool Football Club. Prior to writing, I trained as a scientist and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years. In 2012, I set up my own consultancy business and now split my time between business and writing.
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4 Responses to Why Writing the Last Chapter is the Most Difficult

  1. Last chapters need not be happy but they should satisfying.


    • Val McBeath says:

      Thanks for your comment and for the Follow. Yes, trying to make the ending satisfying is my goal, at the end of the day I just hope I do the story justice.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. From a writing standpoint, the last chapter is the hardest, because you want to tie up all the loose strings without over-resolving. From a family history standpoint, you’re not “ending” your story. Once you share, the legacy continues. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Val McBeath says:

      Hi Laura. You’re right. Since I wrote my original last chapter I have realised another book is warranted as there is one further piece of the story that needs telling. Its all planned out and ready to go, and I hope to get a first draft over the winter. 🙂


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