For this, I’m talking about right after that GREAT climax your novel just had. The main conflict is resolved, with costs, and now you want to get off the stage as smoothly as possible, and wrap it up quick. ALSO: ***SPOILER AHEAD: If you haven’t read SCORPIO RACES, stop what you’re doing, GO do so, then come back when you’ve recovered!***
- Depending on your genre, your MC has gone through the worst days of their lives and succeeded, found amazing love, escaped the maniac for good, etc. This should cause some kind of feeling in the character, matching the feeling the reader should have. If you’ve done your characterization well, and your plot is tight, you’ve given your reader all the feels, and now’s the time that pays off. But the tension is now gone, so you’re working on borrowed time, and it’s easy to bore readers at this stage if you go on too long. But you don’t want to end right as they stab the necromancer or something. You need to go a touch beyond that to let the character react and show the conflict is really over.
- Most times, you want the first book to be able to stand alone. You can (and should) have unresolved plot threads, and if it’s intended as a series, it needs to have places to grow. Don’t tie a bow on the end, going over every result. That just ends up feeling like a list of “And then this happened”, which is both boring and unrealistic. They may only be safe/happy for now, but they have breathing room. If book 2 isn’t bought, usually because it didn’t meet sales goals, it wouldn’t cause readers to not pick up your next book because ZOMG you didn’t finish this one! It happens, even to fairly big name authors, especially in their first few books. (Maggie Stiefvater and Victoria Schwab have both had stories that were planned as trilogies and had to be truncated to duologies!) There are a few ways to do this, but my favorite is to make sure that all the main plot threads combine together to CAUSE the climax, so you don’t have much after left to resolve.I hear you screaming, “What if I really, really need to show everything that happens after it?” Then your climax wasn’t actually the climax of your novel. It might be a fantastic battle, but your climax should cause an emotional resolution, not just explosions. But if you did that and still really need to keep going, add a VERY short epilogue from AFTER the fallout, so it can get wrapped up together with something new beginning. There’s a reason Harry Potter has their kids going off to start their own adventures, after all. Or, for example, take Scorpio Races again (yes, I did go back and sneak a reread in!) Sean tries to let Corr go, but the horse chooses him over the water. That works, and is powerful, because the entire novel it’s been a fact that these horses want nothing more than to return to the sea. But note too: There are, from the time the race ends, 11 pages on my kindle (I’d estimate this to be around 3-4k words tops.) left of story. All of them are direct fallout from the story- Puck trying to figure out if she should buy her house or Corr for Sean, until her brother’s winnings solve that dilemma. Then Puck securing her future and demanding Malvern sell Corr to Sean, and Sean trying to release him. All the threads leading up to the race resolved in the race, except for 2: Corr’s future, and Sean’s, and they resolve together as a direct result of the race.
- You can, if you’re crafty, weave the results in with the problems themselves and set the reader up to put the pieces together. If we know that group A gets to go home when Big Bad is destroyed, we don’t need to see them packing and going. But, say that lets our MC have an emotional reunion with her love interest/family member who is key to the story (we don’t care about long lost uncle Joe) then use that. Which brings me to…
- Emotional fulfillment. You know when you finish reading a book and can’t stand the thought of picking up another, because you’re still in that book’s world?
For those of you who are musically inclined, think of it as a chord. Throughout the novel, there are unresolved chords and suspensions. We should finish it off with a major, tonal chord that is in the same key. For those that makes no sense to, think about the ending of Men In Black. The galaxy is found, the world is safe, and Jay is confident in his new role. Kay can leave the defense of the planet to him, and retire (at least for now). The characters’ emotional journey is done, at least for now. Jay and Laurel going off to more adventures just adds a quick hook for future movies (again, depending on sales. Obviously, since it has sequels, it did very well.) We don’t see more of their missions, or antics from HQ. We know they’re happening. In Scorpio Races, We don’t need to see Puck tell Sean he can have his horse, or the walk to the beach. We understand those things must have happened, but the ones we see are the pieces that have the most emotional impact to bring those remaining threads to a close.
It sounds far, far simpler on paper than it works in a manuscript, ever. I don’t think anyone ever gets it right on their first try either. Good endings have to be edited in, pared down, and the emotional threads have to be developed throughout the book to make the ending work. So when you’re editing, and working on the end, ask yourself these things:
- What are the emotions I want the reader to have at the end?
- What actions are the characters taking to provoke those emotions?How can I make those actions carry the weight of those emotions?
- Are there plot threads here that I can wrap up just before the climax or in the climax itself, instead of after? How can I make those elements increase the tension there?
- What is the least amount after the climax that I can show without the reader feeling shorted?
Chances are good you’ll end up with a stronger, tighter ending. Leave the reader sighing in contentment and you’ll be golden.
Also, housekeeping: More craft related blog posts will go up next week! If you’d tried to send a form in through the Chimera Editing site, sorry, it was broken (We’d changed forms due to an upgrade breaking our old one, and didn’t realize the field ID in the forms couldn’t have spaces like the old one could.) so we didn’t get them and you were getting an error about needing to enter information in all fields. It’s now fixed, and I tested it a couple time just to make sure! Thank you for your patience!