Thursday, April 02, 2015

Finishing Strong

The end is in sight. My work-in-progress, Fallen Sparrow, is (fingers crossed) three-fourths completed. I've read and re-read and re-read again, making sure I haven't missed any plot threads, and even outlined the final hundred pages. Now I have to write them and hope to deliver the manuscript by June.

It's a good feeling to be close to the end. It's an even better feeling to know the ending.

Don't chuckle. I say this because you know as well as I do that the ending is the most important part of the novel. I can hook you in the first twenty pages and get you to read to the end, but if you're not satisfied by my conclusion I've wasted your time and mine. We've all finished reading books, sat back, and shook our heads at the (in the reader's opinion) wrong ending. Take The Great Gatsby. What other possible ending could that book have? The conclusion is entirely fitting, albeit sad for many of my students.

I love endings that turn and twist, offering the unexpected. I just finished Chandler's classic The Long Goodbye. The climax occurs a hundred pages before the book's ending. This novel, though, never lets you go, and the final page stuns you. (I had to reread it.) Same with The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley and SJ Rozan's Winter and Night. I'm hoping (as I always do) that readers will be left guessing until the end of my work-in-progress.

I don't usually start a book with a scene-by-scene outline, but, rather, with five to ten pages of detailed notes. Mostly, these are character sketches that serve to make sure I understand each character's motivation. Motivation, after all, is the driving force behind any plot twist. But as I near the end, I usually stop to reread the entire book. And then I outline the plot from there to the conclusion. Often this outline forces me to go back and add or delete scenes. (This time I added three.) I spent three days (4 to 6 a.m.) on this. It seemed like a long time when I was working on the outline. But, three mornings or not, it will (I hope) prove to be time well spent.

If, that is, I can keep you guessing until the final page.

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