Guest blogging today is the lovely and talented Rob Walker.
I hear it all the time. Beginnings…the most important element of your story. Opening pages, first paragraphs, and so it goes, and every first word and first paragraph is absolutely important, sure. I also hear tell the middle, running chapters, are the most important element of your story. Those action-packed plot twisting, meaty, center pieces, yeah, all important. Then I hear at the same writers conference that Voice is the single most important element, and it is! But then you walk into the dialogue discussion and guess what? Dialogue is—you guessed it—the MOST important element of your story as is characterization, as is a strong female protagonist, as is plot not plod. But seldom do we hear tell that ENDings are the most important element of your story; in fact, the END is typically relegated to a lesser importance. However, it’s the last impression you will leave your reader with, and it often determines if a reader is going to pick up your next novel or not. So there! Engaging, clever, fun, and or exciting endings are THE most important element of your story.
In point of fact—all elements of your story are of equal importance, and a great tale utilizes all the elements in perfect unison. But today I’m interested in talking about endings for endings’ sake.
For the sake of your ending, do you need to tidy up every thread you pulled throughout the novel, for instance? Does the ending require you to spend at least as much time on editing and rewriting as you spent on those opening pages? Should the ending introduce a new twist, a new question that whets the appetite for a sequel, or should it make no nod whatsoever toward a sequel? These are the questions that try a writer’s soul. OK, that’s a bit dramatic, but there are no authors I know who don’t struggle with endings.
In fact, quite often, as with a reader who “hates” to see the story end, quite often the writer “hates” to see an ending to his story as well. The writer may just as well have fallen for her characters as the reader. Doesn’t wanna let go. Gonna miss the old gang of characters in the book. So there’s a natural inclination to allow the writing toward the end wag the writer. What can a writer do?
Let me try to answer the questions raised above if I can. First off, throughout the novel, I write and rewrite as I go, and this means I spend as much TIME doing so with the last chapters as the first. The caveat I always adhere to in creating interesting bad guys and bad girls in the story is to give them as much of your attention and time as your heroes and heroines, and I feel the same can be said of giving as much effort to your last chapter as your first. I typically pull several “threads” throughout a story, and I do my best to not allow any of them short-shrift throughout the story, and particularly at the end. Easy
to do. Easier to do than people might imagine to rush the ending and leave a thread un…un…un what? Unattended I suppose. Tend to each thread. Tend to each major character introduced in the story. Tend to their “needs” and emotions at the end as much as you would in introducing them. Tend to their psychology and their five senses, and how the ending affects each, especially your number one main character or two if you have two main characters working off one another as in a man and a woman—often the case in my novels.
By attending to the main characters feelings and “place” in the end chapter(s), many if not all of the bows are tied and things are tidied up, which the traditional mystery structure all but screams for. It is considered by many a mystery reader a “sacrilege” to fail to tidy up “everything” you made untidy to begin with. That is if you introduce a “thread” then by golly you’d better tie up all the loose ends at the end. Authors who are aware of this and break this rule in order to “push” this envelope do much better with readers because they know the rules and break them in clever, instinctive, often fascinating ways which also tells a reader that so-and-so crafted this ending well regardless of a few loose ends or perhaps because he or she consciously left a question of significance and perhaps philosophy hanging not like a frayed ending but a chime in the wind.
U know what? I rehashed the questions in my head about endings and the main one of ought it to be tidy or untidy, and U know what? I believe I have answered all of the questions that I raised here. Often I create my suspense by setting up a series of questions, and my plot unfolds along the lines of answering those questions. This form is like “lightening in a bottle” in once sense and can end with you writing yourself into a corner, but that’s part of the excitement of writing and the way I prefer to work. I am not an author who writes the last chapter first and then sits down and writes to that ending. Nothing wrong with that. Just not my method. Many rivers to the ocean. However, if I raise twenty questions and I keep rewriting and working the chapters, I keep reminding myself of all the questions raised. By the end of the novel, I am quite aware of all the threads, all the curious questions, and so my endings work toward answers, solutions, resolutions. What better form is that. Questions raised in the openers…middle chapters struggle with answers via action, dialogue, drama…final chapters toss off all red herrings for real solutions and resolutions. They may not always be tidy and tied like a bow, but I hope to create endings that are at least as interesting and captivating as my opening chapters. In Final Edge, I worked a situation to its max and I actually wrote an ending through the eyes of each main character who’s life would be lessoned by the death of Lt. Detective Lucas Stonecoat, the main character. The successive ending. A lesson I picked up along the way and have used again in City for Ransom, Shadows in the White City, and City of the Absent. City ends with Inspector Alastair Ransom on an operating table, yet everything else is “resolved” to a satisfactory degree. Shadows in the White City ends with Ransom again clinging to life. City of the Absent ends with Alastair behind bars as the main suspect in the murder of a priest.
Endings….how important they are. The End. Finis. ###
Happy Writing and Holidays,
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