I recently worked on the ending to my latest novel, Music Box. The original ending had a new music group preparing to go on stage for the first time. They were worried about the size of their audience and whether their loved ones would show. It did many things that you want an ending to do. It was upbeat, and it suggested a new beginning, while still leaving a few unresolved issues to keep the reader interested. (Always leave the reader wanting more.) It reminded the reader of the journey the main characters had made. It suggested a future while leaving some ambiguity and room for doubt. Since this was a romance, it was optimistic. All in all, it was not bad for a first draft.
Somehow it fell flat. What I’d failed to do, I finally decided, was to get into the head of the main character, Jonah.
Jonah has been a challenge to write. He’s a teenager. I’m a middle-aged man. He’s just coming to terms with his sexuality. I came out in the mid-eighties. Jonah is forced to deal with his attraction to men by bullies who are certain of his sexuality before he is. He tends to go into denial, to not think about his problems until events force him to play the hand he’s been dealt. Jonah has never been one to delve too deeply into his own head. If I simply had him think about his new circumstances, I would risk taking him out of character.
I needed to show Jonah’s reaction to his new circumstances. My solution retained the basic scene and added some interior monologue, but I also used Jonah’s perceptions to hint at his interior state. I placed the image of two older men who have recently entered into a relationship into juxtaposition with some innocuous dialog. Jonah’s comment, “I’m ready,” is given greater import by its context. It’s not exactly subtle, but I hope most readers will get the message without noticing the mechanism.