How You Should End Your Novel

Endings. How I love to hate thee. The bane of my existence, yet the reason what I read book after book. Maybe it is because I love endings so much that they scare me so much when I am writing them.

Honestly, ending anything longer than 150 words terrifies me. I long for a WIP to end even as I am avoiding thinking about it. And now you are wondering why on earth I should be writing a blog post about it.

Because I am opinionated! And where else should I air my opinions then my blog?

Well, also because I have given this a lot of thought. Especially when I read a book that leaves me unsatisfied and grumpy when I finish it. Aspiring authors, never leave your reader feeling grumpy. They may never come back.

So welcome to How You Should End Your Novel.

Step One

An end is not The End.

Endings are not just two words saying The End. If it was, no one would ever do it wrong and you would never hear anyone complaining. Since there seems to be so much complaining about book endings in the world, there must be a right way to do them and a wrong way to do them.

We will be discussing the right way to do them. At least, the right way according to me. Other opinions may vary.

Your ending will dictate the course of your entire novel. Whether your character goes right instead of left. Why your mentor says the things he does. Basically, your entire novel is foreshadowing the end. Your job is to hint to the reader how your story is going to end, and it is up to your reader to first see, and then interpret those hints accordingly. If your hints point to a completely different ending then you have planned, your readers will end up feeling jipped.

Mystery stories are the master at this. Every single detail points to the solution to the mystery, and the end of the story. Yes, there are red herrings. The flashy hints that catch the readers attention. However, if every hint you have is a red herring, the reader will end up being frustrated and may slam the book shut out of puzzlement and never pick it up again.

The best writers are weaving subtle, real hints along with their red herrings. If you have a well done plot twist, the reader will be surprised, and then look at the book and realize that the right answer was there the whole time.

Step Two

Happy ending or no happy ending?

This is not a question to take lightly. As we have established, your answer to this question will determine every step of your novel.

For sanity’s sake, please do not throw in a tragic ending just for the sake of a tragic ending. Or because of the shock value. That is a terrible way to decide which ending to have. Terrible.

I have read a story where you are rooting for the main character the whole time, and then he dies. I was left wondering what the point of the story was, and if there was a point at all.

If you have tragedy, there must be a point, a reason. If you have happiness, there must also be a point.

Let’s look at it this way. What if Hamlet had been a happy ending? He got his revenge, the girl, and everyone lived happily ever after. While that is what I was hoping for during the play, if I had gotten what I had wanted, the play would have fallen flat. The entire point of the play was to show the affect of Hamlet’s father’s murder. How one murder turns into two, then three, and on and on. How one terrible decision leads to another terrible decision. Tragedy fit the tone and point of the play.

How about Pride and Prejudice? What if everyone had died in the end? We would hate that book until our dying days for one thing. For another thing the book would have no point whatsoever. The entire story is about finding love and overcoming pride. If the characters never overcame their pride and died, well, we would get an entirely different message. The tone of the book fits the end, the end fits the book.

Choose an ending that fits your book. And don’t be afraid of happy endings.

I think many people believe that authors are afraid of tragedies. Of killing characters and making readers unhappy. Perhaps that is the way it used to be, but at the moment I see more and more authors toying with tragedies, unwilling to give their characters happy endings unless everything else has gone wrong and they have worked really hard for it. Basically a book where everyone dies except for the love interest and the MC who magically stay alive.

Meh.

No, you should not just hand out happy endings like cookies. However, it is fine for people to be happy in your books. If they have worked hard for it, they deserve a happy ending. Lots of people are happy, lots of people have happy endings in real life. Lots of people also have tragic endings in real life. Either way, your ending should be true to your book.

Step Three

Tie up thy plot threads

This is not a suggestion. Let me repeat myself, THIS IS NOT A SUGGESTION!! There is not much in a book that bugs me more than loose plot threads the writer didn’t bother to find and tie up. At the moment, we are not talking about books within a series, we are talking about stand alone’s and the end of a series. The places where you have to search for every stray character and account for them.

Remember step one? Just because you slap a The End on your novel does not mean it is finished. You should have been foreshadowing this end since chapter one. Now consider every hint you have given to be a solemn promise to the reader.

Have you foreshadowed character one and character two falling in love? They had better go on a date by the end of your novel! Did you hint that character one is going to fall off a cliff? Find a cliff and dump him off of it before finishing your novel. By the way, red herrings are tied up when they are revealed to be red herrings.

If you give a hint, a.k.a. a promise, that has not been fulfilled by the end of the story, your reader will be left feeling unsatisfied. This includes any mysteries like backstory and world building stuff. Unless you have a really good reason why not to explain something, explain it. Give your reader the satisfaction they are reading for.

Quick Rant: Wrapping things up has a subcategory called fulfilling all of your prophecies. If you have a huge prophecy at the beginning of the book that is supposed to guide the entire plot, please, please fulfill the prophecy. There are clever ways to get out of killing your character, but honestly, if you want your hero to leave, don’t prophecy his death. That red herring is so old it isn’t even red anymore. Quick Rant Over.

There you have it. A three step process to finishing your novel well. Good luck finishing all your Nano novels!

Shaina Merrick

To Begin

One of the most important bits of any story is the beginning. The part that convinces a reader to keep reading, or to shut the book and move on with their lives. The blank page that keeps writers trapped in fear. We know beginnings are important, we know they must portray character, setting, plot, and tone all without info dumping, we know that a good beginning will keep readers, a bad beginning will deter them. As writers, we are acutely aware of all of this. And that awareness keeps us frozen, staring at the empty page and waiting for the perfect words to begin our stories.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Don’t laugh, yet. Beginnings have the possibility to be easy. Well, easier anyway. Now, I am no expert on this. On anything to be perfectly honest, but I do have an idea of what a good beginning is, and what a good beginning isn’t.

It all boils down to a couple of questions to ask yourself as you are settling down to begin your epic novel.

What is the most important part of this story?

Don’t tell me the characters. You haven’t thought about it yet. Think about it. What, in your book, is most important? Is it the plot? Is it the setting? Is it the theme? Or is it your characters? When you have answered that question, you know what to showcase in the beginning. If your setting is the most important part of your story, you will most likely want to start with a description of said setting (don’t scoff, many classic novels start out with description). If it is your plot, get that plot started right away!

Cut straight to what is important and leave out the fluff.

Is this story plot driven or character driven?

For the sake of this post, we will not be discussing the differences and potentials of each kind of story here. Suffice to say that plot driven stories rely on the plot to drive them forward, character driven stories, the characters.

If your story is going to be plot driven, you will want the plot to start off with a bang. Plop your reader in the midst of a gun fight, have the inciting event start two pages before the novel begins. However you do it, make sure events are happening from page one. This is a plot story after all, there isn’t time to be introspective.

If you have a character driven story, you will, most likely, start at more of a leisurely pace. Your inciting event can start a few pages down the road. Breath, introduce your readers to the characters they will be hanging out with for a few hundred pages. Don’t worry if things seem a little slow at first. Just worry if they stay slow when they aren’t supposed to be.

Since we are all about to being new projects, I thought it would be worthwhile chatting about beginnings. Don’t stress writers! Your beginning will be awesome. Are you guys ready for Nano yet? I am pretending that I am, also trying not to hyperventilate as November 1st looms ever closer. Eep!

Good luck everyone!

Shaina Merrick

Plotting V.S. Pantsing

You know how at the beginning of each how-to post the author tells you why you should listen to them? Why they are uniquely qualified to speak to you on this subject? Well. Here is a short version of that.

In the plotting and pantsing world I am not exactly in either camp. Nor am I one of those enlightened people who sit squarely in the middle of the line with their novels. I am a metronome. Sometimes I swing all the way to the pantsing side of writing, sometimes I swing the other way. It really depends on the day.

So do I know what I am talking about when I say plotting or pantsing? Yup. Been there done both. Whether that makes me qualified to write about this is another matter altogether. I will leave it for you to judge.

Lest you become confuzzled, let me define these terms. Ones that are bandied back and forth in the writing world all of the time. Sometimes sparking an interesting discussion, sometimes a heated debate.

In simple terms, plotters plan out their story before the first draft. Pantsers plot it out while they are writing the first draft. Plotters figure out their characters, plot, and setting waaay ahead of time. They are the ones with multiple notebooks dedicated to different elements of their story. Pantsers sit down with the germ of a story idea, a pen, and a piece of paper, and figure it out as they go along. Plot outlines? Character worksheets? What are those?!

The most heated debates come when writers begin to discuss which one is better. To plot first, or to plot later, that is the question. To which I say, depends on the day?

Pantsing Strengths

At this particular moment, the novel I am working on has been completely pantsed. When I began writing it I had a phrase, and half of a character. As I wrote I found more characters, and eventually figured out what on earth was going on with this story. That is the magic of pantsing. It is like a movie going on underneath your fingers. No one knows what is going to happen next. Least of all yourself. Everything is a surprise, and the magic that keeps us writing is everywhere. It is the first blush of that story, untainted by planning, that gets you through that first draft.

Also in pantsings favor is the fact that you can start right away. No waiting until every plot point is filled and every character question answered. You don’t even need to know the theme before you write those first words. I love that. I love that I can sit down and begin, and somehow that first bit of a story idea becomes a full story.

Plotting Strengths

Now while my current WIP is being pantsed, I have many many many plotted stories in progress. Ones that were plotted withing an inch of their life before I even started the first chapter.

As with pantsing, I start with the first blush of an idea. And then I figure out what on earth I am going to do with this idea. Which means all the worksheets, all the character questionnaires, and all the theme wonderings. What I love about this method is that I get to answer all of my questions before hand. There is something breathtaking about creating a character arc and watching it unfold before your eyes. I don’t have to wait for the end of the book to find out what is going to happen to all of my characters. I can figure it out right now! Then there is writing out each and every plot point and deciding what happens when. My organized self gets a thrill out of that part! When each character arc connects to the plot points, and it is all tied together by the theme, that there is pure magic.

I must say that the actual writing of the story goes much smoother when you have it all planned out before hand. There are less writing block moments and way fewer times that your characters have backed you into the corner with less than no ways out.

Pantsing Weaknesses

What, did you think I was going to let you leave without telling you the dangers of each method? Nope! Prepare to be overwhelmed.

If you absolutely hate writers block, if even the mention of it wants to make you hide under your bed with chocolate, then don’t pants. Trust me. When you barely an idea with where you are going to go with your story, writers block springs up often. Yelling ‘surprise!’ and then wondering why you are running away screaming.

It is easier to write yourself into a corner with pantsing. You eagerly follow each and every rabbit trail, and then wonder how on earth your characters ended up on the edge of a cliff with no ways of rescue. Hm, maybe I should write in a flock of eagles?

Also, you will have to edit many many times. There is no first then second then finished draft with pantsing. Unless you are a writing genius of course. You will have to do way more after the first draft to make sure that it all goes smoothly. And that includes refining character arcs, filling in plot holes, and foreshadowing. Things that you would have already done if you had plotted. So if you hate editing, try to have some of the planning and questioning done before hand.

Plotting Weaknesses

Even with your mega plans and color coded plot your novel still might fall flat on its face. Or never get written in the first place.

The greatest weakness I have found in plotting is the fact that you are never done planning. There are always more questions to answer about your character, always more bits to find out about your world, and always more research to do. You may find yourself always plotting and planning and never getting to the first draft. And if you don’t get to the first draft, you don’t have a novel. Only a well planned project that you will get to, someday.

Also, if you have created a multi faceted plot that has planned for every eventuality and filled every plot hole and put every character in a firmly defined box, your characters will grab the reins and run away with the whole story. It seems to be the rule of all plots. The more you tack them down, the smallest thing will upset them. If I don’t make sense, I apologize.

You see, writing is a creative process. Which means you are using the creative side of your brain most of the time. You know, the side that wakes you up at 2:00 AM with a great idea. That side will refused to be tamped down, and when you least expect it will pop up with this great idea that will send your perfect plot careening off course.

Pantsing Ideas

I thought this post was long enough, but I didn’t want to leave you with all of this dismal news. My hope is that these how-to posts are useful, and so I want to give you a few ideas to make each side easier to write. To avoid each pitfall and tap into the strengths.

I have found that pantsing becomes more manageable when you take notes while you are writing. Whether those notes are in a different color within your draft, or in a different notebook, or even at the end of each chapter, write ’em. Notes will save you from wondering where your characters went, and keep you from hours of finding where you wrote down what color your MC’s eyes are.

If you are writing notes, you have a quick look at what you will have to edit later. Possibly saving you a draft, or at least a bunch of time.

This idea is to keep writers block in the corner. Keep the ending in mind. No, this isn’t me trying to finagle you into plotting. Know where you are going with your story, at the very least you will know when you need to end it. Chances are, you already have an idea of where your story is going, just fine tune it a bit. What is the goal of the characters? Are the characters going to get their goal? Or not? Figure that out, and your pantsed novel will end right on time.

Plotting Ideas

Don’t plan too much. That about sums up my advice for this side of the question. If you plan too much, your novel won’t be written. Which isn’t quite what you want, is it? We all want to finish our stories, so do yourself a favor and stop planning. Find a point that you can stop, and stop. Decide beforehand what that point will be. Are you going to plan until you have a basic idea? Until you have the whole plot finished? Answer that question, and when you have hit that point. Stop. Don’t let yourself plan any more.

Again, if you plan too much and too tightly, one small thing will make it all crash off course. Okay okay. I might be exaggerating. Your plot will probably not go crashing into a mountainside and shatter into smithereens.

However, when you are plotting, leave breathing room. Room for your characters to do unexpected things, and for unexpected people to show up. And if the unexpected happens, don’t sweat it, or try to erase it. It will be easier to put toothpaste back into a bottle than to stuff your idea back into your brain. Play with idea a bit, let it percolate. Maybe it will make your story better, even if it means that your plot will have to be adjusted a bit.

Phew. If you made it to the end of this ridiculously looong post. Congratulations! Take some chocolate strawberries. I hope it was helpful, at least a little. So go out, finish those stories! I will be over here trying to end my pantsed novel. I need to take my own advice and figure out what the ending is for this thing…

Shaina Merrick