It has been a long journey for me to be within sight of these two words. Nearly a year, actually, and I would expect around eighty thousand words by the time I actually type the words out. My current SF project, “Siren’s Song”, is now entering the most demanding phase of literary choreography – the climatic ending. For this novel, I expect the final reckoning to encompass three chapters worth of rising action, and most likely an epilogue to tie things off.
So what does a writer concern themselves with? What are the objectives and impediments involved in finishing a novel? These issues, dear reader, are what today’s blog spot is about – from a science fiction action story point of view.
The main objective is going to be reader satisfaction. Arguably, this might be considered the only objective. The payoff. The unwritten contracts delivered. In some cases, however, there is always the possible sequel, and this is less a payoff than a carefully planted lure that doesn't spoil the feeling of accomplishment.
Yes, of course there are loose ends to tie off, but when you think of these minor story arcs as miniature climaxes in themselves, you can begin to see the complex steps in the dance more clearly. How the arcs are tied off, and when the arcs are tied off, have much to do with the rising crescendo of the main story itself.
It starts with the stage. The final scene must be selected, and when possible, play a major part in the overall performance. This might be a calm pastoral setting meant to contrast something horrific, or an environment equally as dangerous as the clash of antagonists upon it. In some cases the scenery needs to get out of the way and become purposely bland. In stage terms, this is all about lighting, props, and sound meant to set the reader’s mood (and nerves on edge).
Next come the main and supporting actors. Too little, or too much, and you weaken the drama. Each primary character must come fully decked out in every bit of emotional and physical baggage that brought them to this point, and they must use all of it. The toolbox is bewildering in its options. Do you choose discovery? Violence? Forgiveness or redemption? Self-sacrifice? Who are these people you’ve created, and how have they grown up to this inevitable confrontation? And you thought setting the stage was complicated.
Timing. What to do. When to do it. Perhaps a pause before the storm, or the maelstrom before the calm. What works best? There is cause and effect to consider, lest you lose credibility. You have to shape the sequence of events making up your story board much as a rising wave. Get the reader on the edge of their seat. Bring the reader down gently from the peak, or drop them straight into the waiting chasm in the darkest of endings. The story’s aftermath should be as carefully thought out as the climatic showdown. You want that sense of closure. If you’re anticipating a sequel then perhaps keep the exit door slightly ajar.
Those tie offs. Every story ought to have smaller stories buried within, and perhaps even a lesson or two. These minor story arcs need to find their own endings, and in many ways they must replicate all the care and attention to detail as is demanded by the primary story. The character finally finds a mate. Perhaps a sense of inner peace, or a friendship restored. A truth revealed to blind the lie the character has lived with. Oh, and I’m talking any character, not just your main actor. A great read will see the stories close on several characters the reader has come to know and love (or hate).
The beginning of a novel is all important in that it must grab the reader and draw them in, however the ending has a more long term job that will shadow everything else. It must bring the reader back to your next book.
And for me, this is just the first draft.