The topic of the day: When do you know you’ve reached the end of your novel, story-wise? (That is, when do you know the plot’s wrapped up?)This is a huge consideration for an author, and it’s not as simple as non-writers might think (especially for those of us who don’t use outlines).
Yesterday I talked about how you know you’ve finished with the blog post you’re working on. Blogs are much more informal, and the question is less critical there: you can always write another post expanding more on the topic at hand.
Today, though, we’re applying that question to fiction, and fiction is different.
You’re dealing with a story and with characters. The investment of time, energy, and money you’re asking of your readers is greater. And YOUR investment is much greater as well.
ON SERIES NOVELS AND CLIFFHANGERS
There are few hard and fast rules when it comes to fiction. This might sound vague, but truly, your gut will tell you when you’ve reached the end of your story.
And the end might not come at the moment you expect. I’ve had novels extend scenes beyond what I thought would be the final scene up until the point I wrote that scene.
For me, the novel is done when I’ve wrapped up the story and tied up the loose ends that the subplots have created. That seems to be common sense.
But this gets tricky when you’re dealing with series novels. My rule for my series novels are as follows:
- Each novel is a story in its own right (even if some overarching themes connect each novel with the others)
- This means I don’t extend a particular chapter of the overall story through multiple books. Period.
- I make sure my overall plot is resolved by the end of the novel in question.
- I consider subplots and make sure they are resolved.
- I follow these rules for one simple reason: I. Loathe. Cliffhangers. (Here’s why).
I know some people are okay with them, and that’s fine. You are more than welcome to read and write stories with cliffhanger endings: lots of people do, so it can’t be that bad a choice!
Personally, I hate cliffhangers. I don’t write that way. My novels each have a solid, definable resolution to the conflict/crisis that constitutes the major story arc of the novel.
I picked that resolution up for myself after reading Harry Potter. Each Harry Potter novel, though in a series, begins and resolves its own complete story. I respect JK Rowling for that.
PLOT RESOLUTION AND CLOSURE: NOT ONE AND THE SAME
There is a difference between wrapping up a plot and providing you and your readers closure. I know my stories are done when that closure is reached.
Take my first published novel, The Crimson League: it has two epilogues that technically don’t add to the plot. They provide necessary closure, though.
Without giving away spoilers, I can say the end of the novel is not entirely happy. It’s not a fairy tale ending. That wouldn’t make sense for a story about a magical civil war. It’s war; people suffer from war; war gives scars. Always.
That said, when I finished with the plot of the novel, I realized some closure was necessary. I wanted to assure myself that the characters were okay later on, recovering from their emotional damage. Hence the first epilogue.
Then I realized something else: what about the legacy of this resistance group fighting a dictator? How would the kingdom remember them in years to come? I wrote a second (shorter) epilogue set centuries in the future that explores that question and satisfies the reader’s curiosity as to that point.
Why did the legacy matter? Because the characters themselves, throughout the novel, wonder about that point. They also deal with the legacy of the kingdom’s ancient past, so it was a way to tie everything in together.
A FINAL NOTE ABOUT BETA READERS
Don’t forget that knowing when your plot is resolved and when you have closure is one thing. Making sure every subplot is as developed as it needs to be without having fluff is another thing entirely, and you can’t figure that out on your own.
That’s where beta readers come in. After a first draft, you do what you can to smooth things out, add you where you need to, and cut where you can.
Then you share your work to get feedback. Your beta readers will let you know where you haven’t cut enough and what questions they have that you didn’t clearly answer. Sometimes, answering those questions might mean fleshing out a scene or even adding an entirely new one.
Your content won’t be finished when you think it’s finished. You need others to help you with this.
So, what are your thoughts on this post? Do you like cliffhangers? Why do you love your beta readers? Have an anecdote to share? Please feel free to comment.
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