To conclude our discussion on plotting the novel, after talking about obstacles and logic and climbing Plot-line Mountain, we are now ready for the grand finale. This is the subject of BookMarc #12
Plot - Part 4 of 4 parts
After all the ups and down and sufferings of our journey up Plot-line Mountain, we are now ready for the denouement, or the big finale. But before we do that, we can do one more thing. We ease things off a bit. We want things to finally appear to be going Oself’s way. This is a set up. It might even seem formalistic. But it makes the finale that much more satisfying for the reader, which is what we’re all about. I think this works for all genres, especially mysteries, fantasies, and thrillers, but it does require finesse. Remember we said that if a device becomes obvious it loses it's effectiveness. This is of the variety as in a movie when the villin is shot and presumed dead and then when the hero is making out with the girl, the guy looms up in the background. Avoid clichés and avoid anything that just looks stuck on at the end.
Okay, Oself has broken out of the trees and brush and brambles. Only a fifty-foot grassy slope awaits him till the summit, where there’s a helicopter ready to whisk him to safety, wine, women, and song. The sun is shining. The air is clear. The birds are singing. Everyone can relax. Oself has it made.
Ten feet up the slope, out jumps a ten thousand pound grizzly. Carrying a rifle. The one that's been shooting at him. A great altercation takes place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth--talk about Cliché City--as well as kicking and clawing and punching and pinching, until finally, ta da, our stout-hearted Oself miraculously, but logically, folks, always logically, overcomes Gladys, the cross-eyed bear. Or, alternatively, Oself could lose the fight but gain great insight, like how a bear looks from the inside out. We’re not like those phony Hollywood guys; we can take the tough endings.
See? By easing off a bit, it makes the final confrontation more vivid. If a thunderstorm slips in on a cloudy day, who notices? But have the sun suddenly blackened by an anvil cloud and you've made an impression. Remember when we talked of Dean Koontz’s monster in Tick Tock? Well, near the book's end, the hero reaches a safe house. And it's almost morning when the monster will die. The hero is home-free. But guess who comes knocking at the door?
So that’s it. Once the climax is over, get out. "Oself rides off into the sunset." Over with. Don’t drag it out. "Oself stopped at Aunt Martha’s for a piece of blueberry pie, washed his horse, polished his boots, and rode off into the sunset, meeting a blond with a figure like a brick excrement house, whereupon he altered his destination for Cliché City." Once the main questions of the story are worked out, we don't hang around to bore our reader. Remember the last movie episode of Lord of the Rings? There had to be five places where I thought the story was ending, but it kept going forever. Better to leave our readers wanting a little bit more rather than overstuffed.
Got the picture?
I think we need one last caution. The ending has to be satisfying. Happy or sad, even inconclusive, the ending should leave the reader satisfied he made the journey with you. Fail to do that and the next time out, you might journey alone. For instance, I read a book once where a Bad Guy destroyed everything the hero had at the beginning, made the hero do his bidding throughout the book, near the end the hero got the bad guy's money, hoo rah, but in the very end, the bad guy got away scot-free with the money and the hero got zilch. I know what the writer was doing, building things up for the next story in his trilogy. You can do this between chapters, but not between books. I didn't read the next story of this writer's trilogy. Since the first ending didn’t satisfy me, since he left me swinging in the wind once, why would I journey with him again? Please, save yourself from this mistake. Each book has to be complete in itself.
Does this mean everything needs to be tied up at the end? No. Real life isn't like that. If two lovers finally get together and express their love for each other at the end of the story, do we need to show them getting married and having kids as well? No. That's something for the reader to determine. But we better make damn sure we tie up all the main questions of the novel. As a teacher of mine--David Hoof--liked to point out, we make a contract with our readers with the first sentence of our book. Better make sure we keep it at the end.
I think that’s everything I know about plotting. There might be some things to say about handling different kinds of stories, but I think I’ll let that rest for now as we prepare to take up, in BookMarc #13, the second leg of our writing tripod of plot, characterization, and effective writing.
And remember: It's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading Easy Reading Writing than to curse the darkness of rejections. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on: http://www.elderhostelmysteries.com/ERW002
Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998.
Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: http://www.sidewalkbooks.com and the James P. Dandy Elderhostel mysteries at: