I've read it in articles. Have seen it in books about being a fiction writer. And I've heard it in writing classes.
It's the hardest part of writing any story.
No. I'm not talking about getting started. I'm not even talking about the dreaded editing and revising stage of writing. And Surprisingly, it isn't even the submission process.
Nope. Not in the least.
The hardest part of writing a story, any story that you've spent time developing and crafting carefully, is finishing it. Not because the ending is elusive, but because it is difficult for an author to release the characters they've come to know, and often, fall in love with. These characters become a part of an author's daily life as a story is told.
A fine line exists between being a writer and being crazy. These fictional characters, as they tell their story through the author, become very real. They are more than just imagined personalities. We spend time talking and listening to them, studying their habits and flaws, and putting together a very complete picture of them inside our writer brains.
They have to be real, if the writer is to tell a tale that you, as the reader, can lose yourself in. At our house, we joke about Sophie (a secondary character in my first finished novel, "Finding Home"). I have even received gifts from this character through my family, because she was someone that readers connected with through her unexpected antics. (note: Sophie is the seven year old daughter of the story's heroine, Jill)
During a recent writing session with my writing buddy Allie, she noted that she finally figured out why she's having so much trouble finishing her current manuscript. She's so attached to the characters, she doesn't want to let them go.
It isn't like sending your kids off to college. You can't call them up to see what new adventures they're having. Unless of course, you want to write a series (which is a lot harder to do than it sounds, in my own experience). But even then, chances are each subsequent story has a new set of lovers, and your beloved characters have become secondary. You might reread that story that has become such a part of your own being, but it isn't quite the same.
So, the next time you read a book and get that sinking feeling as the story comes to an end, ponder this: The author had to let them go first, so that you could enjoy that story, too. You are not alone in your attachment to that hero or protagonist. Send a thought of gratitude to the writer that agonized over the story and likely shed a few tears before they could release those characters for you to read.