Thursday, April 12, 2018

Writing the end: How much detail do you really want?

Writing a novel is never easy, no matter how many times you’ve done it. We hear so often the first 50 pages must establish conflicts and grab the reader by the throat; the middle develops characters and the plot; and the ending must not be predictable but also provide a satisfying solution.

When I work on the ending of a book, I’m usually thinking about pacing and twists. What must logically take place? Where can I offer an unexpected event that also makes sense?

With this in mind, setting details often take a hit. My agent pointed this out the last time I turned in a manuscript. She told me there were fewer setting details at the end of the book. She was right. There were, and that was by design.

I tend to write novels in which the action takes place in several repeated locations. For instance, my current project is set at a New England boarding school. This provides a contained locale. It also allows me to not waste the readers time by describing the setting more than once. I can focus on using setting details to establish tone within each scene. Dialogue drives my writing, and this consistent setting allows me to focus on that. It was Hemingway, after all, who said writing is architecture, not interior design.

The end of the novel, then, often feels like a sprint, which is what I believe my agent was saying. How sparse should the text be? How much detail does the reader really want at the end of a novel? I can answer for myself. As a reader, at the end of a novel I enjoy, I've got my head down, and the pages are turning. (I'm not even aware there are pages.) The awkward silences that existed in the opening moments of this first date with this novel have long since passed. By the time I reach the end of the book, the relationship is well established and we’re way beyond awkward silences.

I hope the ending of the novel I'm working on right now provides the reader with both an unexpected and logical solution. I also hope the climax and resolution of the novel were like being at the top of a roller coaster, teetering, just before the final descent. Because when the roller coaster starts down, you're not looking at what's around. You're concentrating only on what's coming at you, and the pages are turning on their own.

1 comment:

Donna S said...

As a reader, I like to know that the bad people got their come-uppance, the good people survived and some of the loose ends are tied up. It would be nice to know "why" they did what they did as well. Other than that, don't need to know every little detail of everyone's life.