When you are writing is it better to have the ending already worked out or to have it work itself out during the process?There's no proper way to answer this question. How you write endings is entirely up to you based on what works best. Some writers have them worked out beforehand, and others like to leave things open, if not a little mysterious. I'm one of the latter and it would be foolish of me to tell you to write the way I do if it will not help you. A lot of writing tips tend to have an issue of presuming that everyone should write the same way, when in reality we all should write in a manner that works best for us as individuals.
With that in mind, however, I can talk about my process for endings in hopes that will be of some use to someone. I intentionally avoid planning endings in anything I write, at least not in the beginning. Clearly I have to have some sense of where I'm going, but the more vague I can keep the final moments of the story, the more interesting the story is to me. I have an issue with losing interest in stories that I already know the end to. A part of me wonders what the point is in finishing a story that I already know the end to. Since the writing process is largely about me, and not anyone else, this makes sense, but I imagine it will lose that clarity when I get published and develop fans (and if they are at all as rabid as George R. R. Martin's fans, then I'm in for it).
Endings are, for me, both the most important and least important elements of stories. On the one hand, the ending is, well, the ending, and without it the story never concludes, never fulfills its metaphysical contract with the reader, the writer, or the characters. On the other hand, endings are less important than the other factors that make a story, such as the characters themselves, or the imagery. Endings can make or break a story, but they don't always have to. An ambiguous ending is not necessarily a bad one, and in some cases the more ambiguous the ending, the better. This all depends on personal preference, though, and I find that I enjoy certain kinds of endings more than others (I prefer incomplete or less-than-happy endings).
There's no easy answer to this question. What one should do is try it both ways. Try planning the ending ahead of time and see if that works out for you. Then try it the other way and see what happens. It would be wrong of me to say that you have to do it one way and not another. Nobody, even a published writer (unlike myself), has the authority to tell you how you should write. Writers may give you advice and may suggest to you things that have worked for them, but what they say should always be taken with the understanding that what works for them may not work for you. People fiddle with "conventions" all the time, and there's nothing wrong with that.
What about all of you? Any thoughts?
And that concludes this week's Reader Question. If you have a question, feel free to let me know in the comments, send it via a tweet to @shaunduke, or email it to me at arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com. If you liked this post, please consider stumbling it, bookmarking it, or whatever.