Monday, July 9, 2007

On Endings

"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.


  1. Ahh...I knew you would do it!! Maybe we should try to end all of our blogs with condiments.

  2. You ladies always give me something to smile about. I wish I had a comment on ending a story, but sadly -- I haven't gotten to that point yet. But I did want to stop by. Gotta run -- I'm behind on a lot of work and I have to...ketchup. ;)

  3. Oh, if only the ending were about that last line (not that that's not bad enough!). The first couple of times through my book, I was still figuring out that the main crime plot, and I kept cramming all the explanation and facts into that final confrontation. This time around, it's been like I'm taking that chapter apart and moving things to earlier chapters--seeding what's coming, making sure the threads weave all the way through the middle. When I get back to the big scene (one chapter to go!) I know I'll need to tighten, tighten, tighten around the few crucial details my reader wants THERE and give them lots of action and tension to keep them reading.

    Of course, then I get to write the wrap-up, or as I call it, the Poirot-Telling Everyone-How-He's-a-Genius scene, which is actually kind of fun.

  4. Hey Becky!!
    I still think middles are worse. Maybe that's because I'm in the middle??? When I get to the end, I'll think that's the worst, too.

  5. Hey Becky! So nice to see you in CA! (It is the same Becky, right?) Can't wait to read your book--and it sounds like you are into the fun part.

    Hope it--cuts the mustard.

    (I've been waiting all day to say that. Sad.)

    Jan--you're in the MIDDLE??? Lucky're halfway through! I agree...the middle is the hardest. But so satisfying when it works. And you feel so virtuous when you get through it and happily out the other end.

  6. Hi, Jan & Hank. Yes, it's the same Becky. The book's going well--I am near the end and trying right now whether I have to make more changes to the middle or not!

    It's quite the...PICKLE (ouch.)

  7. I'm jealous of all of you ladies approaching the finish line. Book two is temporarily on hold until I wade through the sea of red that is the copyedited version of my first book. Looking forward to putting this baby to bed and getting back to Corpse Flower...that's something I'll really relish...

  8. Ro--
    I'm in Dallas. I just burst out laughing. Thanks..

    I'm about ready to start page I don't want to hear any complaints about middles. Writing those first words is so pivotal.Once those are down..your path is set. Don't you think? You've chosen your course. The whole story. We should talk about that.

    Anyway, I'm at the romance writers convention--which is amazing and eye-opening. My agent is here,too--she has a dog, but she had to leave him home in Denver. Poor Chutney.