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  • Writer's pictureRobert Sadler

When the story’s over...

Updated: May 26

When the story’s over or Looking for the next sandbox.

I finished the manuscript for my thirtieth novel: Hole In The Water at almost the stroke of five o’clock on May 17, 2024, some ten hours ago. And yet, here I am back at my keyboard, why… Because I am a writer, it’s what I do.

It’s not devastating, like seeing your winning numbers come up on Lotto, but you forgot to play your numbers and buy your ticket. It’s not devastating like a broken heart, like you’re Rick in Casablanca, standing on the railroad platform in Paris, in the rain, waiting on Ilsa until the last moment before jumping on the last train to Marseilles with only the memory of the rain-smeared-ink of her ‘Dear Rick’ note to warm your future cold nights. 

No it’s more like watching a movie you hope never ends, but it does. And you have to get up from your seat in the dark and go outside to meet the weather (sunny, hot, cloudy, cool, cold, freezing, rainy, foggy) only to have to drive home in the beautifully dappled sunshine of spring. Wishing, block after block, driving by rote memory, that the story could have gone on—but no it ended and you are in your driveway still in the car, pounding the steering wheel, wondering, now what the hell am I gonna do?

That’s the realization that the story is over, that the characters have all gone home, gone walkabout, on siesta, or on sabbatical. And wherever they have gone they will not be playing under the banner of the title of the story that they just ended.

As writer, you don’t want to stop, you want the characters to keep playing, doing, speaking, running, talking, saying and just more or less screwing around. And as much as you want to let your characters play with all the sand in the sandbox, when they run out of sand, they can’t build anymore sandcastles. That sad situation is the old hard-stop, The End.

Yes there are times when strong, rogue characters find a way out of the sandbox, find a front loader, drive to the sand pit, scoop up a load of sand, find a dump-truck to dump it in, then drive back to the sandbox and dump the sand in the box (oh yes and sometimes they build a bigger box) and start building a new set of castles. Or their is, in reserve, the ‘what if’, if only the characters could find themselves on the never ending beach, but then that’s called a dream, which is sometimes a healthy sequence of events to circumvent The End… but in truth that is only a single reality check away from back at ‘Z’ and The End.

Finally your choices as writer are two. Commit book-a-cide and throw your story, it’s manuscript, into the round file, or the never-to-be-seen-again drawer. Or, two, publish your manuscript and find a new sandbox and ask your characters to come and build new castles in the town of Make Believe, Arkansas. Of course as soon as they start to play they change the name of the town.

As writer of a novel manuscript you have already 'tripped the light fantastic' from A to Z and now have to accept, grudgingly, and give in to the finite nature of that which is contained between the two covers of ‘a book’; if indeed the manuscript is to become a part of the physical universe—the ‘out there’ indicated in Heinlein’s Fourth Rule: “You must put it on the market.”

Yes that dreaded moment for the writer has occurred, you must stop and prepare or have someone prepare your manuscript for publication. All published writer’s know those mean nasty next steps, so let’s not go there.

Suffice it to say, you are in immediate limbo: story purgatory. You know, you’ve done it before, you have abandoned your manuscript chasing the thrill of the next character running through the snow hoping to stay alive long enough to get to safety as bullets tear into his or her flesh—sorry, there I go trying to start a new story…

Instead you bite the bullet and start doing all those mean nasty things that puts lipstick on the the pig of a story you know you have just written, or perhaps you are the self-enlightened type who knows he or she has written a good or great story or rather, more accurately, you wrote as fast as you could the good or great stories your characters were living… until they gave up, stopped, or otherwise ran out of action, one step beyond the penultimate moment and shouted, screamed, said quietly, or whimpered, “The End”.

And now with great solemnity, you accede to putting your novel ‘out there’ in a hurry because you’ve just realized you have been here or there before and the quicker you do all those ‘mean nasty things’ to get your novel ‘out there’ the sooner you can find your next sandbox in which to play.

PS: I’m off to do the ‘mean nasty things’. 

rjs 5/18/2024 3:38:42AM

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May 18

Congratulations on number THIRTY my prolific friend. A toast to the wordsmithingest friend I know. Steve Hodel, Birch Bay, Washington


Robert Sadler
Robert Sadler
May 18

Thank you Harvey... Yes you know of what I speak. Fortunately, the Michael Grant Beach has a few more stories in it... to fill a few more sandboxes.


Harvey Stanbrough
Harvey Stanbrough
May 18

Robert, I feel your pain. And your joy. We've both found what seemed an endless beach (Michael Grant Beach, Wes Crowley Beach, but even that one ended eventually). May we find many more, my friend.

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