Every part of a story poses its own problems and challenges. I often find multiple solutions but one usually jumps out as the best. Writers spend hours crafting the perfect opening sentence and then the opening paragraphs, thinking this is the most important part of the book. If the opening doesn't grab the reader, the following pages will remain unread. I don't know if the opening is the most important or not, but certainly I spend a fair amount of time on it.
The middle, after the crime has been committed and the sleuth is drawn into the investigation, has the challenge of keeping the reader engaged, maintaining the desired pacing, laying out clues to keep the reader intrigued, and developing characters to make the reader care as much about them as about the solution to the crime. The middle often threatens to sag, and one solution is to introduce another crime, another murder. This is the land of complications, and the more the better.
The ending would seem to be the easiest part to write. The sleuth pulls together all the clues, applies brilliant deduction or magical intuition, or whatever her particular skill is, and the villain is caught. The ending, however, is more than the climax, more than the capture of the bad guy. The ending is, in one measure, the definition of the story the reader has been following. If the sleuth has been working with or intermittently encountering one who could be a romantic interest, the ending could focus on that, and that by itself redefines the story. Or, if the sleuth has been struggling with a particular burden and overcomes that at the end, either through confronting the villain or discovering something in the process, the story shifts from romance to personal journey. Or, suppose the sleuth has learned something important about family, her own or another's, that changes the tone of the story yet again.
I am grappling with these choices now as I come to the end of a story about a young woman who was born into a family of healers. Through a deathbed confession, she learns about a theft from her home before she was born. When she attempts to reclaim the stolen articles, she uncovers a body. This is a story of family, a marriage that never happened and one that did, the sacrifices made by another to preserve her marriage, and learning to care for a dwindling parent. I have written all but the last one or two scenes, and in choosing the final ones I will be choosing how readers will look back on the entire story. Through the frame I construct, will they see a romance, a definition of the role of the paranormal in ordinary life, a story of families undermined by years of lies, or families preserved at all cost?
I have read several books lately that have powerful stories but weak or extremely unsatisfactory endings, as though the story is enough for the reader and when it's time to end, the writer just stops writing, plugging in any scene that will serve to end the story. In my view the ending is much more organic than that. This week I'm finding the ending for the story of Felicity, a young healer living in a farm community who discovers truths about herself, her family, and the world she lives in. And I have to decide on which one to explore in the final scene.