I'm a bit frustrated with finishing off my 2nd manuscript, and I was wondering if talking through it here and soliciting some ideas might get me to the end. All told it's now about 30 chapters and when it's all revised and pretty, will count about 150k words, +/- 10k. However, my sense of pace and story tells me that I've got at most two chapters to finish it off.
The story just had its dramatic climax, which went off fine in the rough draft, but some characters still need to get home. In fact, they've got to travel several hundred miles to get back to civilization, and more importantly, the reader will want to know how they get home, so I just can't dodge out of it. I described the journey into the wilderness in several chapters, but I feel doing so on the return will just be a fizzle of an ending. However, I know the place / setting where I want to end it, so that's nice, and it should be noted that the story arc will continue in a 3rd book.
My inclination is to do a selection of scenes from the journey, perhaps as many as five or six short scenes -- some perhaps even a couple paragraphs, like a tone poem -- or perhaps a couple large scenes. I want to avoid substantial dialogue until reaching the final setting. Much more importantly, I think, is the tone I want to convey: it's not going to be a happy journey.
Anyway, that's the puzzle in front of me. Any thoughts or suggestions? How do you bring a story to a satisfying close?
February 15th, 2006, 03:55 PM
If the climax and resolution have already taken place for the most part, you may want to just use an epilogue for the 'homecoming' journey. Since it sounds like that the story has come to a fairly good close, an epilogue would give everyone else who cares that extra tidbit of coming back to their homeland. Once the climax is over there isn't a whole lot a reader (myself anywa) would stand going through to finish the book.
As you mention though. Excerpts from the journey could be fairly short and interesting enough to resolve all those ties with the characters, giving the reader a chance to see them live life after the climax.
If the journey home is long AND dangerous (which could give rise to new problems/plots/etc), you may want to just cut it out or put it in the beginning to a sequel (should there be one coming).
February 15th, 2006, 06:57 PM
What is the outcome of the final climax? Is it "hurrah the world is saved we are all ok!". If so it does seem a bit strange going on for a few chapters afterwards.
If something bad happened, i.e. a character died during the climax, and there might be an element of grief, detailing the return journey could be very useful.
Perhaps a 'villain' could come back on the return journey, like a loose end that needs tying up... kinda like Saruman / Sharkey in LOTR.
February 15th, 2006, 10:21 PM
It won't be a happy ending, not with two more books to go in the story I'm thinking about. (And why I conceived a four-book story arc is absolutely beyond me, but I've had lots of fun writing it, so whatever.)
The ending will be epilogue-like, and perhaps the second of the two chapters I allow myself will have Epilogue as the title. But I'm thinking I've got about 7k words to wrap it all up and pave the way for part 3.
Yeah, I'm just going to let it rip and see what happens. Usually I do most of my writing longhand, but I've also come up with some imaginative stuff by typing with my eyes closed.
February 16th, 2006, 07:31 AM
If the climax to the main problem has already passed, and there are no other serious problems that need to be addressed or loose ends to tie up quickly, then it really should be the end of your book. Epilogue stuff is fine, but I mean, look at the Lord of the Rings movies, and as beautiful as those movies were, even I was stirring in the final 20 minutes. Sure, it was nice of them to bring that 9-11 hour journey to a close and tie up all the loose ends, but it was painful to watch, because the story most everyone cared about--the War of the Ring--was over. All that was left was Frodo and his band of Goonies to return home, get drunk and bored, and then Frodo to get the hell out of there with Magneto and Agent Smith.
The point is, if you're writing multiple books, and there's going to be a sequel to the one you're having problems with, then there's almost no point in tying up the loose ends.
Obviously that's not 100%; but we're working with limited information here.
February 16th, 2006, 10:53 AM
Well, I think I have to do some storytelling about how they get back to civilization. They are sort of in Indian Country, as we say in American westerns, and I don't think the reader will let me get away with ending it there.
What I've decided to do is sketch the traveling through flashbacks. One section from the present, when the journey is over, with a character looking back through short scenes of the journey. Small vignettes, likely without any dialogue at all. I like how this method gets the story immediately to its end, where both the author and the reader want it to go, while showing enough that the reader believes it. That would get me to the final setting of the epilogue, a short chapter with some conversation and information that leads into the next story.
Comments? Thanks all for the feedback. Talking through it made me focus on how I wanted to structure the ending, and I'm on the way.
February 16th, 2006, 02:55 PM
its really hard to answer this without knowing how much each book you have planned / written stands on its own.
example - the Malazan books have very LARGE issues that don't get resolved in each book, but many of the little issues dealing with characters do. Erikson has said many times that he really wants the books to be complete stories cause he hates the cliff-hanger. ASoFaI is the complete oposite of that.
if there are major issues to tie up, particularly with characters who may not make appearances in the next book then i'd go for it. but you could always include many of the scenes you mentioned as flashback or by reference in the next book. Might even be a good device for bringing the reader back up to speed with things :)
(its so hard to let go of the characters isn't it?)
February 17th, 2006, 09:08 AM
I agree, it's really hard to say without knowing more.
But I do know that in any book I've ever read, any movie I've seen, once I've come to the climax, and the Emperor has been killed, the ring has been destroyed, the hero escapes with the girl, there's only so much more I'll put up with before I get bored.
And I don't think I'm alone there.
We never saw Frodo's return journy, he just ended up home, and that was good enough for us. The Evil had been destroyed.
Now from what it sounds like, since you're writing several books, the evil will not have been destroyed by the end of this book. Even so, if they killed the Indian Chief who had plagued their travels throughout the entire story, any action beyond this would really just seem superficial. I mean, we know that none of these characters can die, because it's the end of the book, and the major trials are over. And if you threw in a loop and killed off one of your main characters, after the journey was over... well, I mean, that's going to seem pretty lame, sort of like dying in a random encounter in an RPG, and not having any purpose to the story for it.
So I don't know, without knowing anything about your story, I'd say you should cut down the time spent after the climax to an absolute minimum. Some of the best epilogues I've read have just been brief aftertellings of the results of their successes (or failures) from one of the main character's point of views, usually told in dialogue with another character. Just sort of their thoughts about everything that happened.
So I mean, even if they had to march barefoot in the snow and on sharp jagged rocks over a 12 mile rope bridge over a lava pit with alligators and snipers on either side of the bridge shooting at them, with an army of Indians on the rope battling them ON THE ROPE, and they had to run across the 12 mile rope bridge before the indians cut the ropes... well, you still, even then, don't NEED to have another adventure to show how they got back. It might just be easier, and would probably hold the reader's attention better, if they just took the long, safer road back. Then just insert like, one paragraph somewhere in your story where they say:
"Well we could take the Bumbleputz Path."
"No, that would take three times as long to get there. We don't have that kind of time."
"Maybe, but it's a safer road, through friendly territory the whole way."
"I said no, we're taking the Road of Ultimate Destruction and Pain, and that's final."
Then that's that, y'know?
February 17th, 2006, 10:11 AM
Hmmm, well, I think the reader will have too much curiosity about the climax to finish without providing some bit of explanation, and a character in the final setting will be able to offer that. The climax is more about conversion and change than it is about combat and victory/defeat, and how the characters think about that change is something I need to show too.
The way I'm writing it will turn out pretty short anyway, probably less than 5k words. I'm certainly going to err on the side of being too short rather than too long, because I agree that long, drawn out endings make the story a fizzle. But still, some things have to be sketched out, even in small scenes, or the reader will call BS on how the main characters got back to civilization in pain-free, oblivious fashion, like valley girls on holiday.
Should make a nice denouement, I hope, but that's what editing is for.
February 17th, 2006, 02:42 PM
I think the OP should take whatever feels best to be the ending. (I, for one, had no real qualms about the ending to LOTR other than "too much slo-mo!": if I watch 9+ HOURS of what is basically one movie split into three parts only to get a two minute montage ending I would feel ripped off extremely.)
See, with a three-out-of-four-book deal, especially with the "it's all one big story" angle I think you're taking, it would feel pretty cheap to me if everything suddenly STOPPED the minute the villain is killed/whatever. It seems the equivelant of an action movie's "ok, kill the villain with witty one-liner and ironic method, blow something up, kiss the girl, walk into the sunset/out to the cops/off to the next adventure, and...that's a wrap!" ten-second montages that seems to consist of every single one's endings (for the book version, read any Terry Goodkind or Terry Brooks novel). Now, you probably could get away with this if you put it in the next book, but I for one don't think it would feel, or flow, right for what is supposed to be the big finale/wrapper to have that in there, plus the readers wouldn't receive the same emotional impact as they might as reading it all at once.
Now, I'm not saying write 200 pages of stuff, but your 7k or so word thing sounds perfectly fine for this, as that's about 10-20 pages. You could just do something like snippets of each part of the journey, describing the places, but having it be an altered version of whatever it was the first time around, as perceptions/emotions shade people's responses: the death/pain/sadness has made the places seem less vibrant, almost decadant and brutal, or isloated, to the characters. Plus you can have them thinking of whatever fallen comrades they had.
Take from me, that extra little bit of "set-up" and emotion makes a world of difference in the book, as I've experienced similar decisions in writing my four volume novel (I use those words as "series" gives me the idea that's it's a bunch of somewhat connected stories that are just needless sequels to each other, and "book" does the same, whereas volume puts forth the idea of something merely being a part of something else, not a whole). For example, the first volume goes on for about 9 pages after its main climax, and the second one has about 12--I plan to expand these a bit, the first one probably to 15 pages, and the second to 25. This current one, my third volume, will probably have about 15 pages at the end. And those make all the difference from it being an actual novel, a book with something to SAY, then an episode in a soap opera.