Essay 13 – Putting it All Together
Finishing your book should be the easiest chapter of your novel to write. After all, you’ve described the main characters and supporting characters in action, you’ve set up a mystery and planted the clues throughout the novel. You’ve spent a good deal of your time making sure all the locations fit the scenes and all the dialogue makes sense to your reader. You’ve written a story where the characters search and find clues and are pointed in a certain direction. That pointing becomes more and more fixed as the book goes along. Your group of major characters comes together and the stakes rise higher and higher. You’re all ready for the conclusion. So what do you do?
Too many writers panic. The number one reason people do not finish books is that they cannot come up with an ending that explains what happened in the rest of the book and still make sense at the conclusion. Which is why, I will repeat again my basic rule of writing a novel - Be sure you have the ending worked out when you start your book. That way, as you write your book, you are always aiming for a goal which has already been decided. It might seem simple, but it's the difference between why some people finish their work and many many others do not.
The reason most writers don’t finish their novels is that they don’t have an ending that works for their book. Too many different things happen all at the same time and none of them weave together to form a satisfying conclusion. Too many characters don’t know the proper villain by the end of the story. Plus, there’s no dramatic tension if there’s not some sort of confrontation between good and devil. A good climax has the gates of Hell beginning to open, and the hero is very close by. Or cliffs might be falling down, or an airplane is spinning in a crash dive. Tension begets terror begets conclusion.
Some writers like to end their novel two or three chapters before the end of the book. The last few chapters tie up lose ends and turns everything back to normal, or as close as that can be.
Many novelists follow Dean Koontz’s outline for finishing a novel. Near the end of the book, have your hero fight a deadly battle with one of the deadliest foes in the book. The hero wins, but just barely. He’s exhausted from his big fight and needs some rest. That’s the moment when the true menace, the secret menace that the hero has feared the whole length of the story finally makes an appearance. And he’s looking for trouble! For a Koontz horror book to have a satisfying ending, the hero must fight to his last gasp of energy, and even then that might not be enough.
Turn your endings into huge events. Don’t have them take place at a bar when Shea Stadium is nearby. Bigger and wilder is better. Always go for the explosions and fireworks! Make your hero fight through hell and back to win his quest, and make sure your readers know it.
Don’t end a horror novel (unless the entire book has been working in this direction) with the hero entering his car, turning on the ignition, and the car blows up, killing him. It can happen but don’t expect a lot of happy readers – and remember that every book you write serves as an advertisement for your next one. If you think your readers want downbeat endings, then go for it. I must admit that I usually try to end my books on a somewhat more upbeat tone.