Ending a novel: five things to avoid
Every novelist has strengths and weaknesses. Some bleed eye-wateringly good opening lines if they just get a mild paper cut. Others couldn’t scoop up their saggy middle even if you handed them the latest corset technology from Agent Provocateur.
Me? I can’t do endings. Poems are different: I can throw in a killer twist or unexpected rhyme to round them off nicely. But novels? I’ve been writing this one for fourteen months now. Admittedly, six of those have been to the accompaniment of builders and all of them have been around a toddler, but those excuses will only stretch so far. I need to finish.
Here are five things that have tempted me. If you want to finish yours, just say no, kids.
1. Kill off all your main characters
Well, if that was what you meant to do all along, you’ve been working up to it and your reader has bought into the possibility that there is a two-tissue-box apocalypse approaching, you may. But if it’s only because you are really pissed off with writing them, and want them out of your life and onto the editing page, calm your trigger-happy fingers, partner.
It won’t solve anything. You won’t have a Horatio wittering about flights of angels singing them to their rests. You’ll have a tear-stained reader mouthing “what the …?” at the page, and a hundred angry emails approaching.
2. Suddenly invent a new, über-interesting character
We’ve all been to those parties when the group of people we’re with is being dull. The door opens, spicy aromatics waft around and in steps the most charismatic person you’ve ever smelled. You can’t just invent a character with all the interesting traits you’ve neglected to put in your old ones.
Think Kill Bill: go at Charismatic Dude with a machete. Carve off the tasty traits, go back and shove them into your original lot. You should have thought of them earlier. It’s not too late.
3. Warp your reality
By the time Pam found Bobby in the shower and confessed the entire previous series of Dallas had been a terrible dream, nobody believed it anyway. You will lose all credibility as an author if a realistic Earth suddenly gets invaded by aliens, or a powerful quake flattens central Croydon. Pandemic flu could have unintended consequences (see point 1). Unexpected telepathy is desperate.
You have a genre. Have the decency to be faithful to it and save your dalliances with new and exciting ones (see point 2) for the NEXT BOOK.
4. Give up ‘showing’, and ‘tell’ for speed
We’ve all done it. The quickest way to dump a bit of plot on the page is telling the reader what happened, not faffing around trying to “show” it through a character’s actions and reactions. Readers want a page-turner, yeah? So let’s squash down all the twenty-three things that have to happen into bullet points so we can all shut the damn book.
No. This is a watered-down result of point 1, since these characters will be flat copies of those with whom you started. They have already half died on the page. No reader is going to want to finish to the last chapter if all you give them are gasping, doomed fish flapping about on the bottom of the boat.
5. Give your OCD unlimited power
If your novel is like any other (and I recommend it is, or you’ll need an agent with paranormal long-sight and confidence to think they can sell it), it will have more than one character. A subplot, or two. Or three (easy, Tiger). Minor characters. Places you mention. You’re heard of “start late, finish early”? Not, as you might think, your average man’s approach to sex, but referring to stories. You don’t have to crochet every fibre of every strand of your twisted rope of a novel back onto itself in intricate detail so as not to leave any of those dreaded Loose Ends. You will have created a [an, for the pedants] hermetically sealed, sterile unit, in which nothing can breathe and therefore nothing survives.
Nobody cares if Mrs Scroggin’s elderly cat had its fleas dealt with successfully, enabling Mrs Scroggin to feel able to invite her friends once again round for tea, thus preventing her from dying alone, encrusted in cat faeces, to be found a week later by her visiting chiropodist. Unless that is your main plot point, in which case I respectfully suggest you have other, more pressing issues to sort out. Go early, let the reader imagine. Don’t bore their eyeballs out with irrelevant detail.
So that’s clear. Five things to avoid. Now, if I knew the five things I should be doing, I’d have finished the bugger by now.