Before you bust a gasket, this article is not a primer for offing yourself.
This is directed at writers and would be writers who need to understand the importance of how to END a novel.
It's tough enough to come up with the first line of a book, then a gripping first chapter, then a tight 100 pages and then the rest of the book. But it's the ending that seems to elude many authors.even authors who have a proven track record.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard friends make this comment about a current fiction offering: "I loved the premise and the book really had me going. But it just fell apart at the end. It was like the author had no idea how to end it."
Come on. Admit it. You've said the same damn thing.
I've been asked countless times if I knew how a book or story was going to end before I started writing it. I was kind of shocked that anyone would ask me that since I think it's rather shortsighted to write a story without a clear picture of where you want it to go and eventually end up. Can the ending change in the process? Sure. But it has to make sense and it has to be compelling, realistic and worthy of the hundreds of pages that came before it or it will come off as false or a waste of time.
There have been times while researching a book that I actually wrote the ending first. This happened with the first book in the Jane Perry series, Protector. I wrote the last few pages of the book before I ever wrote the first line of the first chapter. But here's the rub: Protector's first draft was a hefty 650 pages and needed a drastic 150 page edit. Much of that edit was cutting out a character in the book that was integral to Jane's life but was not essential to the story and was taking away from the core focus between Jane Perry and Emily Lawrence. There was just one problem: this character was part of the last scene of the book that I'd already written. Once I cut out the 150 pages, I shifted the focus and made the ending more about Jane Perry. However, the flavor and emotional impact of the first draft ending was still there, minus the edited character.
With the book I'm writing at the moment, Revelations (which is the third book in the Jane Perry series), I know the final LINE of the book and what leads up to it. Will I alter it when I get to that emotional point? Maybe. That's my right as the creative captain of a novel. But the ending I have chosen for Revelations is not just important to the book as a whole but to the fourth book in the Jane Perry series because it is a jumping off point to that story. I may alter the ending slightly but I won't alter it that much because books three and four are so connected.
When you're writing a series, you simply have to be thinking two or more books ahead of yourself.at least figuring out where you want to take your main characters and the most interesting way to get them there. Endings of novels need to be both captivating and enticing, causing the reader to be hungry for more. If the reader ends your book, tosses it to the side and says, "Ech, what's next?" you've failed in your endeavor. The reader should be so wrapped up in your story, so concerned about the characters, in tears or on the edge of their seat. The ending is the payoff for the time they've invested in reading your book. If the ending sucks wind, it's almost like you're telling the reader you don't care about his/her time because you can't figure out how to wrap it all up.
One thing that has always annoyed me both in novels as well as films, is that loose ends are not tied up. I make such a point to resolve all the major loose ends in any story because I don't think it's fair to set something out there and then not figure out how to resolve it and hope that the reader will conveniently forget about it. Mystery and thriller writers do this a lot, unfortunately. They freely use their imagination to make story points work in the book but if those imaginative angles aren't realistic or if the major ones don't dovetail somehow at the end, then all they are were just mechanisms to make something work but have no realistic reference point when it all comes to wrapping up the story. Readers aren't stupid. If "A" doesn't lead to "B" or if there is a crazy leap of reality in the way a loose end is tied up, forget it. You will lose the respect of your reader.
I've never understood why an author would take the time to write a masterful story with great characters and wonderful dialogue and then not take the time to craft a great ending. It's like baking an elaborate cake in front of someone with the finest ingredients and then not letting anyone taste it. It's all tease and no closure.
I know there will be people out there who argue that "life has no closure" and "everything in life doesn't resolve" so why can't fiction reflect that? That's such a bogus, ungrounded, elitist response, in my opinion. While art can reflect life, it's a capsule of life. A good story needs to have a constant rhythm, highs and lows, and a steady tease to keep the reader motivated to continue the story.
The first thing I learned in charting a story was that your story had to have five simple words: A PERSON WITH A PROBLEM. By the end of the story, that problem had to be solved. Simple. But writers somehow decided that good story structure was "boring" and that leaving lots of loose ends was "realistic." It may be realistic, but it's frustrating as hell to read a story with no purpose, tons of extraneous ideas that don't connect and no meaningful ending. Frankly, I think that when writers started to use the excuse that structure was "boring" and that loose ends were "realistic" it was because they were too damn lazy to cohesively organize their story and create a resolution that was worthy of that story. Leave your reader satisfied and they will hunger for more; leave them frustrated and they'll pass up your next book.
I'd say that's a pretty good way to end this article.
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