Top Ten (Okay Eleven) Things You Should Know About Your Own Book, Part LAST!


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 But that very repetitious scalpel-like observation has made me realize that the guts of a book, especially an unpublished first book, really do need to be looked at in every possible way, and more than once, before we see its problems, faults, weaknesses, and the ways to improve.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.”



16 comments to Top Ten (Okay Eleven) Things You Should Know About Your Own Book, Part LAST!

  • I couldn’t agree more about MW, Faith. I joke sometimes with my hubby about “What I learned in class at MW today,” but I’m not sure how much I’m really kidding. 😉

    I finally started reading JY this week. (Bought the books as they came out, of course, but my TBR shelf is a fire hazard at the moment.) Guess I’m glad I have #4 at my fingertips! 🙂

    Okay. My ending. In some ways, I love my ending, especially the last two words. MMC/love interest finally found out the truth about FMC, that she’s his country’s long lost princess, near the beginning of the climax. FMC/POV character changes her mind near the end of the climax, finally realizing that she has to be queen. So in the ending/epilogue chapter, they finally get a chance to sort their issues out, or at least they get together. For now. The big thing that needs to be resolved in future books is that FMC will need to figure out exactly *how* to take back her throne.

    But there’s still a few issues bugging me. I’m literally working on the ending and the chapters leading up to it right now, so I’m trying to figure out exactly what’s missing. I already know there’s a big loose thread with a possible villain, but if I keep him around I won’t get to deal with his evilness until Book 3, so I’ll probably have to nix him. Or figure out how to deal with him for now. And I’m also concerned that I do too much summarizing of how people are putting their lives back together following the climax. I hope that as I work through this last third of the book (and hopefully for the last time before sending out to agents), I’ll be able to figure things out.

    Thanks for this series, Faith! It’s been awesome, and it’s really helped me improve my story. And recognize where work needs to be done. 😀

  • Thank you, Faith, for this series. It’s helped me more than I can say. In fact, MW as a whole has been such a helpful place for me–I appreciate all of the advice and the friendliness of the site. I am so glad I found it!

    The very end of my story was actually one of the first scenes I had in mind. I still like how the ending addresses the emotional arc of the MC, but I have adapted it somewhat as the rest of the story unfolded, and I do have some work to do to get to the ending. Over the weekend I ran the basic plot, including the ending, past my logical, detail-oriented, and honest(some might say outspoken) sister and all the holes she saw were ones I already knew were there, which was a relief. I’m heading home from vacation today, so starting tomorrow it’s back to BIC to get the ending written.

    And I just want to say that the ending of Mercy Blade did not tick me off–it did get under my skin, which is a good thing. I kept thinking, along with Jane, what else could have/should have been done. I love books that keep me thinking “what if” even after I’ve read the final page.

  • Yes. Yes. Yes. I am in the midst of writing my second book,and the one mantra I keep repeating to myself is “if I did that in the first book, I can not repeat it in the second.” I cringe when I find a writer I love, read several books in succession, and realize the formula. Just like the disappointment I felt as kid when I realized the Scooby and Shaggy were ALWAYS going to be bait for the bad guy, and Daphne and Fred always figured out the mystery. It loses its luster at that point, and I think, fails readers who want to be entertained.

  • TwilightHero

    Great series! Love the ending 😛

    My ending was one of the first things I had in mind when I started my WIP. Admittedly, I was inspired by Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule. Though not all of the Sword of Truth books have agreed with me, his first book ending has to be one of the best I’ve ever come across – don’t worry, I won’t spoil it – for the simple facts that it made perfect sense, should have been obvious in hindsight, and was the ultimate game-changer. It blew my mind. I knew not long afterwards that I wanted my first book ending – others too, but one book at a time – to do that. I wanted to blow people’s minds.

    So, while of course all of the immediate concerns are wrapped up by my ending – the MC and co. have reached their destination, defeated the (immediate) villains once and for all, and the MC has come to terms with having powers and using them to kill people, there remains a final twist I’m doing my best to foreshadow very subtly – not enough for people to guess, just so that it makes sense looking back. Then when readers find out, they can retrace their steps and go, Damn! I should have seen that coming 🙂

  • ajp88

    Thanks for the great post! I’ve been thinking a lot about endings lately. I recently finished writing the full arc for one of POVs in my current WIP. I’ve since compiled the chapters into a novella and sent that around to various beta readers, to test the dark ending.

    It’s the same one I’ve mentioned here before, about a thief trying to ransom his kidnapped little sister, and ultimately failing. The ending is a gut check, no question, so I simply asked one question when I sent it around. By the end of the story, would you feel like the money (I’m looking at self-publishing as an e-book) was well spent? I gave no clues to what happened. The answers were surprising.

    Lots of angry expletives but they’ve all agreed that they would not regret the purchase. It ends in a way that the character can go two ways: bloody vengeance or crippling depression. Everyone was just excited to find out how’d he react, what would come next.

    Recently, I finished reading the manuscript from a friend met through sites similar to this. Absolutely fantastic dystopian sci-fi. The book is the start of a trilogy and it ends as such a book should, with the anticipation of more to come. The ending was shockingly good, with perhaps the finest final sentence I’ve read in awhile. I won’t share it here as he’s just begun to shop it around, but I’ve never been struck by a final line like that before.

  • Cindy

    I will sound the MW praise too. I have learned so much here and I greatly appreciate the blog.
    The Mercy Blade ending didn’t bother me either. In a romance novel I expect that everything would be tied up in a pretty bow and the couple would be looking happily toward the rest of their lives. With Jane and Rick my impression is that they don’t know where the relationship is going and that works well in the series.
    Great series, Faith!

  • Endings give me fits, though I totally love it when I nail one. That balance between tying up EVERY loose end, and leaving a few to keep readers coming back for more is so hard to find. I’ve always thought that you do this very well, Faith. I’m a book or two behind in Jane’s adventures, but so far each ending has been up to the high quality of the rest of the book.

  • Thanks, Laura. I too have had to go back and cut a character out of an entire book, and it’s a pain in the tushee, but when it needs doing, it needs doing, so I do understand. That ending / summarizing is something I struggle with and agonize over all the time. How much is too much? How much more do I need to add to make the reader happy? In MERCY BLADE, I actually did a *lot* more summarzing than usual, and that was another reason that I needed the surprise ending. I needed a one-two punch to finish it all off, and the final phrases that came out of nowhere were perfect. 🙂

    SiSi, thank you for the kind words about MW *and* MERCY BLADE. I too have a thing for endings that leave me wanting more, but that particular ending left me wanting a lot more than usual!
    It’s good that you have a beta reader who is so insightful and logical. My own beta (my mother) can give me voice and character info, but not plot arc and logical info.

    Lillian, that Thematic Repetitiveness is what drove me away from the romance genre at an early age, and makes me leave writers who otherwise tell a good tale. Keep up with *do it different* philosophy, and readers will keep on coming back!

  • Gypsyharper

    I don’t have an ending for my WIP yet, because I’m still struggling with the beginning and how to get to the middle. But I do love a good ending – and by good, I mean an ending that wraps up all the plot threads (at least the ones that aren’t set up for the next book) and is true to the characters, not necessarily an “and everybody lived happily ever after” ending. I thought the ending of the most recent Harry Dresden book was really well done that way. I don’t want to give the ending away for anyone who hasn’t read it, so I’ll say no more.

    I’ve really enjoyed this series, also. I know I’m going to refer back to these posts a lot as I get further into my WIP.

  • Twilight, I often have the ending firmly in mind when I start outlining a book. In fact, I usually know only the character, the beginning, and the ending, and it’s the the outline that makes it all work logically. Well… sometimes. Sometimes I have to do a lot more for the endign to work out right. Sometimes I learn the ending after the fact, as with MERCY BLADE, because the original ending wsa simply too bland.

    That *I should have seen it coming* is what good thrillers and mystery do — surprise the reader and thrill him into wanting more.

    AJP, it’s good endings that keep me coming back for more! They need to give me Bang for my Buck, and it sounds as if yours does, even if it is not *pleasantly* satisfying, but rather, darkly satisfying.

  • Thank you, Cindy. Yeah. I know how I want the series to end, and the endings of each book need to point generally in that direction. I am glad you were okay with MB ending. I had some reviewers say they threw the book across the room. LOL

    David, if you want to toss MB across the room when you are done, feel free. Then call and cuss me out! And I’ll know I did my job. Mwahahahahaha.

    Gypsy, I agree that the Dresden books all have had great endings, even the one that ended in the water. (That’s all I’ll say, to avoid spoilers.) But I admit that I *hated* that ending when I first read it. HATED IT!!!!! But it worked. 🙂 Goood luck with yoru WIP.

  • Razziecat

    This has been a GREAT series for me. It’s given me lots of insights and I keep coming back to re-read these posts. For endings, well, I have the basics down in my outline for my WIP, but I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m sure surprises will fall out of the pen (or in this case, the keyboard) while I’m actually writing, and I have a twisty bit to work into it that should–if I do it right–hark back to the main plot element in a way that suggest the story’s going to go on even though the book is ending. Or so I hope. To me, the best endings tie up the loose ends but also leave you with the feeling that the world and the characters continue on, and that’s what I’m hoping to pull off.

  • Razzie, I am glad you found something useful in the posts. 🙂 And yes it’s that *if I do it right* feeling that keeps us all on our toes!

  • A. R. Gideon

    Thank you so much for these posts Faith, they’ve helped out a lot. In the last month I’ve finally nailed down the outline of my first book, and endeavor that took entirely too long. The hardest thing for me was deciding where the first book ended and the second book would begin. So the ending as I’ve planned it at the moment will have my MC dragging his brother kicking and screaming out of a castle that is in the midst of a coup. Now the MC is the former crowned prince of this country, he renounced the crown making his brother the crowned prince. The book ends with them watching as much of the surrounding village and a single tower of the castle burn, and the brother swearing to return. Something I like is that this ending would set up the second book to start with immediate conflict.

  • RG — THAT sounds like a KILLER ending! And yes, a good first step into book two.