Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dragging out ending

Just read a very good mystery where the murderer was arrested and taken away 3 chapters in-- I mean, Chapter 24 out of 26 chapters, so 2 chapters after the solution of the mystery. I read those last 40 pages thinking that any minute, the REAL murderer would be unmasked. After all, why solve the mystery so early in the book (with 2 chapters to go), if that's the actual solution.

So of course I thought the guy fingered for the crime was actually taking the blame for his mother or girlfriend-- whoever the real murderer was-- and that the truth would be unveiled in the last chapter.

Nope. The guy arrested was really the murderer. Now I would have had no trouble with this except for the expectation set up by solving the mystery too early. We're all trained by cinema-- if the monster is killed early, then it'll come back to life or there'll be a bigger monster with five minutes left in the film.

So be careful not to set up the reader for disappointment. Resolve that external plot near the end of the book. You might want a scene or two, maybe 15 pages, to wrap up the romantic conflict or the internal conflict. But two chapters-- that's tempting the reader to imagine a new ending, one perhaps more complex than yours.

When do you end your story? Any thoughts here?


Harry Markov said...

I end them, when they are supposed to end. The last chapter is the conclusion. Since I have a lot of action/adventure/horror elements in my works I tend to not prolong the novel after the major plot has met its end and the tension drops. My endings border on cliff hangers. The protagonist is left in a sticky situation and the reader doesn't now whether he/she is safe. This is what happens more or less with my series. But I like to tie everything up and leave the readers knowing the characters are relatively safe.

Edittorrent said...

Harry, I find endings of books within series hard to plan-- what do you do to keep the reader wanting to get the next book, and yet also wrap this one up?

C.L. Gray said...

In my trilogy, the first 2 volumes end with the exact same cliff-hanger which is resolved in the third volume.

Since the Civil War has two theaters of operation and each theater receives its own story. Volume 1 in the east, Volume 2 in the west. But at the end of each volume, the stories come together. Volume 2 fleshes out the cliff hanger that I set up at the end of Volume 1, but it doesn't resolve the cliffhanger.

The cliffhanger, once I resolve it in Volume 3, will compel my story to it's conclusion. And then I will have to say goodbye to these characters that I have fallen in love with and adore writing.

Eric W. Trant said...

End at the ending, of course, unless you're going to write literary works.

In which case it's all about the prose anyway, not the ending or beginning.

This happened to me recently watching a movie that's currently out.

It wasn't that they concluded it early, it was that they didn't conclude it at all. It was a cliffhanger, and I kept wondering about better endings, twists, who the people really were and then...


Thanks for playing.

Perhaps the ending is the most important piece you'll write. Everyone forgets the beginning and middle, but nobody forgets the ending.

- Eric

Harry Markov said...

Technically I have them outlined, not yet written. I jump from series to series.

In SERIES 1, where the heroine is prone to finding possibly lethal trouble [otherworldy of course], I conclude, when she saves her life or solves a big part of the conspiracy [the series arc], but at the same time new danger comes in and sweeps her away. This is the more plot driven series.

In SERIES 2, which is the more lighthearted one [but becomes a lot darker], the hero ends each novel with an entry in his personal video journal. The tension is lowest, the adventure is over, but he always prepares for what seems unresolved and the point of the entries are to follow his changes as a character.

Idea is to either start as far away as possible from the next story or foreshadow a problem in the future. It's very easy, when the series is a chopped up story and not something like a string of events that don't really

Gayle Carline said...

I end 'em the way I like 'em - Big Final Confrontation, then one (shortish) Wrap-up Chapter, The End.

Ending right after the confrontation seems too quick and leaves me thinking I'm missing something. Dragging the ending out makes me cranky.

Edittorrent said...

What happens in the last two chapters? I'm curious about why they structured it this way.


Edittorrent said...

T-- The penultimate (love that word-- it sounds so important, and it's not) chapter is him dealing with the arrest and aftermath, and the last chapter is him being restored to his family. That last is important, but the wrapping up the details of the arrest chapter-- not needed.

Edittorrent said...

Eric, yes, it's a problem, I think, when we leave room for the reader to invent a BETTER ending. Sigh.

Edittorrent said...

Harry, love journal entries. I don't know why. I guess they're like soliloquys.