As an editor, writing instructor, and novel critique consultant, I’ve had the privilege of reading hundreds of manuscripts in my career. (I could probably say thousands, but I don’t want to appear presumptuous. smile) Through those experiences – and through my own novel writing – I’ve seen the challenges of creating a good novel ending.
Most beginning authors can plunge into the first chapter with some degree of abandon, but endings? Now that’s a different story. It can be nerve-racking – rather like coming right up to the edge of a precipice. How far is too far? How close is close enough?
You Missed It…
When I read a novel manuscript that runs on for several pages after the end, I want to yell, Whoa! You missed the jumping off point. It’s back there. I never blame or point fingers, because knowing exactly when to stop is not an easy task. Especially if you are a first-time novelist.
One of the reasons it’s not an easy task is because you, as the author, want so much for your reader to come to the final page and lay the book down with a sigh of satisfaction. (If not a big smile of satisfaction.) Because you know that no matter how good the novel is, if the reader is disappointed in the resolution, the story has failed.
There’s a difference between reader-satisfaction, and author-satisfaction. It’s good to be aware of this fact. Be careful that your own satisfaction is not simply due to relief of completing the work. When you arrive at that last page, that last scene, that last line – step away from the work for a few days and let it cool then come back and objectively assess your closing solution(s).
We’ll assume for the sake of this discussion that your novel has been plotted correctly and now you’ve now come to the close. At this point, all story questions must be answered. Can you pull it off? Can you gather up all the loose threads, create a strong climax, and present the denouement as the pace slows and the curtain closes?
With practice, the answer is, Yes you can.
Some novel writers will warn you not to even start your novel unless you know how it’s going to end. Others will say they have no idea how their story is going to end until they’re halfway through the novel. Which one is right?
It’s the same with most all aspects of novel writing – they’re both right. Writers differ; they do what works best for them. You’ll find what works best for you.
The point isn’t when you know how the story will turn out – but that you know it soon enough to pull it off successfully
In Part II of Where are the Brakes on This Thing? How to End Your Novel we’ll continue looking at ways to create a pleasing conclusion to your novel. This is just one more way of moving out of the amateur level of novelist, and into the professional.