Hello from novelist Gail Gaymer Martin. Once again I’m here to share some information with you about the art and craft of good fiction writing.
Earlier this year I read an article written by Agent Erin Buterbaugh on Chip MacGregor’s Blog. The article talked about what happens when you don’t understand how to end a novel successfully.
I’ve written numerous articles on the final act of a novel, Act III (you’ll find more info on writing the last quarter of the book on my website under Plotting, but Erin made reference to the denouement, a French word meaning the last few pages of a novel that pulls the final threads of the novel together. This is the very ending of a novel after the stories climax, tying everything together. Below are some thoughts
- Resolve all unanswered questions
In every mystery, family saga, and even romance, readers want to know what clues lead to the solution of the mystery, or what caused the hero to forgive the heroine for her terrible mistake, or if John really wanted Mary to be pregnant and why he changed his mind. Often things happened but readers are still wondering how and why the characters figured out what they needed to do.
Think of the old classic mysteries, even The Pink Panther with Jacques Clouseau. A denouement always followed with Clouseau revealing all the clues others had missed. “He killed her in a ‘rit of fealous jage.’” Deciphered: In a fit of jealous rage. And that was Clouseau.
- Show what will happen now
The final few pages will reveal what will happen next in the lives of the main characters. Once the mystery is solved, the romance shines. Let the reader see that, yes indeed, the hero and heroine have fallen in love and make a commitment. The killer will no doubt get life — or the death penalty. Make sure the reader understands why the killer always murdered blonds or red-heads or older woman. What happened in his life to cause his hatred. Never take time to develop a secondary character unless you can foreshadow that the person will be a major character in the next book in the series. Be smart about how this is done.
- Pacing is still important
Sometimes as authors come to the end, they are too excited to put the final “The End” on the manuscript and they rush the ending. Excitement and action are still important. A mother and daughter wrap their arms around each other and whisper “I love you despite it all.” The couple reiterate their love and embrace in a long romantic kiss. The red-herring character charges into the room and demands an apology for being on the suspect list. Poise a question that will intrigue readers as they anticipate the next novel in the series. Set up the next book by mentioning a trip he must take or a letter he must open. Make a simple comment such as: He eyed the letter realizing it had lain there for days unopened. Maybe now he would have time to read it. Then end the story. If it’s a series, readers will know the letter has something to do with the next book. It will bait them for buying it as soon as it is released.
While ending too fast, doing the opposite is also a negative. Explain the information clearly with enough details to cover what’s necessary, but don’t drag it out. Rushing or dragging is something you want to avoid.
Look at your last completed novel or two and ask yourself if your denouement is written with these ideas in mind. If not, ask how you could have improved it. Learning from our own mistakes is still good learning.
(c) Gail Gaymer Martin 2015