"I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word mayonnaise." ...Richard Brautigan
HALLIE:Ah, endings. As I am struggling with one, endings are very much on my mind. I always think I know the ending when I start writing a novel, but about half the time I turn out to be wrong. That's because the characters change as I write them and, by Act III, won't be herded the way I'd intended them to go.
The ending of any novel has to be satisfying, bring things to a close. But in a mystery it's got to do so much more. It's got to pull all the plot strands together, or most of them, anyway. Expose all secrets, dispose of every clue and red herring. In some manner or other, justice must be served. And above all, the ending has to pack a powerful, credible surprise--even better if it packs an emotional wallop. That's a tall order.
Do you need to know your ending before you start?
RO: Jeez...was I supposed to do all that??? I always feel as if I need to remind people that I've only finished one book so far - forgive me for being so repetitious - but from my vast experience....I didn't know how the secondary story lines would shake out. I knew who my main bad guy was, but I changed his/her accomplices as the characters developed. And that was fun. The hardest thing for me was the last 2-3 pages. The reader already knows who did it and why.
You can't just write "OK, see ya.."
JAN: I need to know the ending -- at least by page 100 of the first draft manuscript. Not all the gritty details, but the general idea of who did it and how the plots will all intersect. That's where I am right now in my new book and boy, it's a lot of hair pulling. About this time in every book I wonder if I'm going to be able to make it work. Still, the "why" of the crime, which is the part of the story that interests me the most, often evolves or changes as the characters and their schemes develop in the next two hundred pages.
That's what happened with Yesterday's Fatal and I'm sort of counting on it with Conflict of Interest (working title). Anyway, I always tell myself that our very first ideas are not our best. And that the painful searching and rewriting is what makes for better mysteries. Yeah, yeah. Let's hope.
Anyway, I agree with both of you, the last twenty pages or so are the hardest to write. The fireworks are over and you have to gracefully leave the park.Give it meaning and all that.
HANK: And you know how critical it is for the reader...haven't there been books that you just want to throw against the wall when you finish? You slog (or skim or power) though the books--thinking, wow, this is interesting, how is the author going to write out of this one? And then it's twins. Or something outrageous, something impossible. Or ridiculous. Like--what's the book where someone jumps out of a helicopter using a blanket as a parachute? I honestly did throw that book at the wall.
Me? Well, here's a secret about the end of Prime Time at least. I thought I knew it, and was writing along with the knowledge of who did it and how it was going to wrap up all the loose ends. And then, after the middle of the book, I realized I had it all wrong. The person I thought was guilty--wasn't. And I understood who was. I literaly sat bolt upright in bed--and said out loud--Oh my gosh I was wrong. And I hardly had to change a word of the book aftewrwards. It was all already there.
So I was thrilled, actually. And loved finding out who really did it. Although probably having that be a surprise is not the best thing, if you want to make a career of this...and in Face Time (coming in October) yes, I definitely knew.
But contrarian me again--I adore writing the ending and the wrap up. Pulling it all together. Don't you find there were things you wrote that fit into the puzzle--that you didn't realize were there? It's satisfying for me, too. Kind of proof that it was a good story.
And Hallie, now I keep thinking about ending with mayonnaise. Thanks.
HALLIE: You're entirely welcome. My pleasure. BTW since I started this blog I finished my novel. Sort of. Now I'm back into Act III trying to figure out how to do it better so it goes down like buttah...or mayonnaise.