an ending problem

When I was finishing the last pages of 2016’s NaNoWriMo, I realized something was wrong with my ending.

I really, really wanted Aren and Resa to get together. That’s what I’d been planning from the beginning – them as a couple at the end of the novel. And if not a couple, then the beginning of a relationship – that there would be hope of one.

But when I was finishing it up, with almost everything concluded, I realized that although I might write this ending, it wasn’t the ending that should happen. Aren had spent the entire novel complaining about not being able to do magic when Resa was in the city. It was clear that magic was her life and a huge part of her identity. Yet she complacently accepted Resa moving into the city at the end:

“There are other things to study,” she said. “I’m becoming more interested in literature. Perhaps I will request employment as the palace librarian and catalogue their books. Anyway,” she added, “if I get too restless and feel I need to do magic, I can always go out into the desert, or…”

“Or?”

“Or I can go on a journey,” she said, smiling. “It isn’t fair for you to be the only one.”

Even as I wrote those lines, I knew it wasn’t right, and it’s been nagging me ever since. Aren grew as a character as I was composing the novel, and the ending I’d planned out for her in advance no longer fit her. It was a bad thing, but also a good thing, for her to have enough personality that something actually could be considered out of character.

That still leaves me wondering, what should happen to Aren and Resa at the end of the book? As I develop the magic system of Astora, I find thinking, will these people be willing to give it up for safety, even if their queen wants it? I don’t think that would happen. I think it’s possible for a compromise to be reached, where Resa would be within reach of the city of she’s needed, but far enough away that the culture can continue, uninhibited.

But then, what about Resa? When I write her character bio, one recurring motif is that of isolation. And when I was planning out the novel, one of the very earliest themes was that of needing a home. I thought, There are plenty of stories about a character in a safe and happy home wanting to go on a quest, but I want to write a story about a character on an endless quest who longs only for a home. Planning her bio, I’m finding that the hardest thing for her is being away from people, being cast off. So for her, being close to the city but not in it would also be terrible. It isn’t a good compromise, either. She might agree to it, if it meant she was protecting Astora but also keeping her magic-using friends happy, but she wouldn’t like it.

Thus, my main characters’ values conflict with the reality. I know Resa would love to give up being the magic seal, but she cannot. And if Aren’s passion was anything other than magic, she would happily live with Resa. But when one of your characters negates the other, it’s tricky, and I don’t know what a good ending would be. Either way, it’s going to be bittersweet: one of them unhappy, or both of them apart.

In any event, I’m happy to be thinking so hard about my novel again, not just the logistics of the world but the actual feelings of my characters. The more I plan, the more I realize I still need to plan. I’m realizing how little I actually planned before NaNo, and it’s daunting, but on the other hand, worldbuilding is fun and I haven’t done it seriously in years.

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