Monday, March 14, 2011

this is the end... of your novel

I recently finished writing a new subplot and associated characters into my RiP (revision in progress, which is a complete draft, now in its fourth cycle of revisions, as opposed to WiP, work in progress, which is still an incomplete first draft). Because of this milestone, I reread the novel's ending. I think it's a good ending, but then I realized it's not something I've given a great deal of thought to. I also read this article today, in which the assumption is that everyone reading knows loads about how to write a good opening chapter and almost as much about writing a good final chapter. But I don't. I mean, I have in the last couple of months become much more familiar with the do's and don't's of novel openings, but I haven't read anything or discussed the question of novel endings at all.

So I figured, maybe you haven't either. And I did a little research, mainly by reading these articles:
Of the above, I found the third article to be the most useful. The first was an interesting overview of three possible formats, the second was hard for me to follow (although take that with a grain of salt because my attention span is about as small as a grain of salt), and the fourth was a teaser opening to an article and I'd have had to buy access to the rest. And I just don't have the money for that right now.

What festinapeoples suggests in her eHow article is to create an outline of everything you've already written as you near the end of the novel. This isn't something I've tried--I don't use outlines. When I start a novel, I have a general idea of the story. I know several elements I'll be including, who the major characters are, and more or less where I want to end up. I often have several scenes already worked out in my head. And the task becomes to go from the logical beginning--although, considering the difficulty I've had with the opening of the RiP, there's nothing logical or straightforward about it--and make my way in the most coherent manner to each scene, until I've come to the end. But what I have done is create 3X5 cards as I reached the midway point of the WiP--it was getting hard for me to keep track of everything.

Festinapeoples's outlining method sounds similar. She suggests that you create it to be sure to tie up all of the loose ends you've created in the beginning and middle of the novel. My cards serve the same purpose, but they have the advantage, imo, of being easier to move around than the outline. Maybe the ideal is to do both.
  1. Create the outline of all preceding scenes or chapters.
  2. Create 3X5 cards for all the remaining scenes (my chapters have several scenes each, so it works better if each card has a scene, not a chapter).
  3. Make sure there's a card addressing each loose end from the outline.
  4. Play with the order of the cards until everything hangs together nicely.
So that's for the organizational side of it. How about the actual ending, what should that look like?

Of course there are a lot of ways to go about this, and genre is a huge factor, as is the overall tone of your novel. My novels are paranormal fiction, with a strong women's lit quality. While some parts may get dark, at times, the overall tone of the stories is light. I write to entertain. I like to end with dialogue. My RiP ends with the mc and her love interest talking about the events they've just gone through together, and then the love interest asking the mc out. I think it's sweet. We'll see if my crit partners agree!

I'm guessing the dialogue-sweet-ending thing would not work for everyone's novel. Stephen King, for instance. I don't think he chooses that format very often.

How about you? Have you given much though to how to end a novel? Do you have wisdom to share about the right way and the wrong way to do that?


  1. Most of the time, I have the end in sight from the beginning. However, as the book is written the ending has been known to change. In my current wip, I didn't have the end in sight until just recently and it was beginning to freak me out. I'm about 3/4 of the way through it so it was about time--which answers your question from the previous comment in the previous post :)

    The last two chapters are basically written in my head. I wonder what would happen if I wrote the end and worked myself backwards to where I am?

  2. My endings have changed midway through, too. And then changed back! And then changed again in another way. :D

    I'm also curious about experimenting with different methods of organization... starting with the end, outlining, etc. I think a lot of mystery writers start with the end, and my books have an element of mystery in them, so it might be a good idea to try that.

  3. Tying everything together is a good step in processing an ending. :)

    Great post. You're right -- there's generally not enough focus on endings in the literature.