I am finally finishing up the Top Ten (Eleven) things one should know about one’s own book. It has been fun trying to see my own work in different and fresh ways, and I gotta tell you this. If it were not for MagicalWords, I honestly think I’d have fallen into the trap of writing to formula – all unconsciously, all innocently, but totally out of unconscious and innocent laziness. I see it in other writers’ work often. Something goes well once or twice and so they do that same thing again and again and again. Until they fail and then they have no idea why they failed, because hey, they didn’t change anything, right!?! So … it must be the market. Yeah. The market. And sometimes it is the market. But sometimes it’s us – the writers – who failed.
Because of MW I am forced to look at my work through the eyes of knowledgeable and educated friends, wicked-good writers, demanding readers, and myself. It isn’t always easy, I’ll tell you, and this seemingly easy set of six posts has been really hard – harder than most – because I feel I am often saying the same thing over and over, with only a step to the side or a peek from above. But that very repetitious scalpel-like observation has made me realize that the guts of a book, especially an unpublished first book, really do need to be looked at in every possible way, and more than once, before we see its problems, faults, weaknesses, and the ways to improve. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who feels that way, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot through this set of posts, and this one is no exception.
This last post is about – obviously – endings. The questions we need to ask ourselves are, “How does my book end? Is it logical? Is it satisfactory? Did I tie up all the loose ends? If it’s a series, did I leave things to be resolved in the next book, and did I do so in the best way possible so the reader is happy? The ending should always have what I call “Bang for your Buck”. I talked about that here , and here , and lastly here .
We all know that we, as writers, have to make sure our characters solve the conflict problem, tie up the loose ends, and (figuratively speaking) ride off into the sunset. If it’s a comedic ending, then preferably on a prancing horse, with the love interest; if it’s a dramatic ending, then with everybody dead or dying, the war lost, Camelot destroyed, yada yada. (I hate dramatic endings, but that’s just me.) But sometimes we do all that and it still doesn’t work. Been there, done that, and recently too.
In MERCY BLADE, the third Jane Yellowrock novel, the plot ended, Jane had solved the mystery and discovered who the main BBU (big bad ugly) was. She had put all the pieces together and made sure the primary and secondary bad guys were caught/punished. She had saved the love interest (as best as she was able). And the last chapter had a great title: Pick a Target. Aim. Shoot. Yes, there was lots of action. It should have been Bang for the Readers’ Buck.
But something was missing. At that point, I had 373 pages and nearly 120,000 words and something was missing.
In this case it felt too tight. Too tied together. So I went back to the beginning and reread, marking each and every plot thread and solution with sticky notes. I needed something to jar the reader, and I found it – in fact I found two things I could put into an epilogue to shake things up some.
One tiny plot thread fit into the main character’s personality trait of second guessing herself. In the epilogue, Jane was feeling that there was something more she could have / should have done. I let her internalize the successes and failures of the final battle in a narrative scene before riding off into the sunset (yes, really) alone (yes, really).
The other plot thread came out of nowhere, out of that part of the writer’s brain that is working all the time. With this thread, the love interest, the guy she had saved from the massed BBUs, appears as she is riding out of town, on her Harley (alone) and she discovers that all she had done was not enough, and never had been enough, to save him. It reads like a cliffhanger, a dramatic ending, and frankly, I was fussed at by fans who thought I had been unfair to them with this ending. But when I traced all the threads back it was the only possible ending. And it must have worked because the fans (while ticked off) bought the next book in very nice numbers.
So, sometimes we have to do the unexpected to give the reader Bang for their Buck. And, as we always say here at MW, “There is no one way to do anything. It just has to work.”