Tying It All Together – Finding Satisfaction in Your Ending

by Jonathan 8 Comments

Photo by Toby Adamson

I was over at Victoria Mixon’s blog this morning reading her post about making your novel unforgettable. The entire post is well done, but the thing that struck me most was this:


    This is the part pantsers love doing but rarely know they have to follow up on. You know what we call fuses that aren’t followed up on? Loose threads.

For Mixon, fuses are plot threads that are lit and burn through the story. But the writer must be careful:

    When you pants loose threads without knowing they’re supposed to be fuses, you get to the end of your novel. . .and it doesn’t end in all the fuses coming together to make an almighty explosion, but in you, personally, getting bored. Sadly, the writer is the last person who ever gets bored. Guess what that means?That’s right. All your readers have already died of boredom and turned up their toes long, long before you finally meandered into your ad-hoc, how-can-I-get-out-of-this? WTF-ever ending.

    That’s not a CLIMAX. That’s just a fizzle…

    …spend some lengthy, intense, brain-breaking hours figuring out exactly how all those wild ideas can come together in the most thrilling, wonderful CLIMAX ever, the reason your legions of future fans are going to love this novel and read it again and again and again.

There’s the rub. Bringing it all together is the hardest part. It’s those brain-breaking hours that make it all worthwhile, that provide not only satisfaction for your readers, but for you, the writer.

Robert McKee calls the Climax “far and away the most difficult scene to create: It’s the soul of the telling. If it doesn’t work, the story doesn’t work.”

I’m in the third act of my third draft. I like the overall story for the first time and I want to get the ending right (and written).  While washing dishes the other night a thought came to me, an Ah Hah! moment that helped tighten the weave of the story and bring more of those fuses together.

I doubt there’s one correct way of approaching the ending of a novel, but it would seem that time helps me the most. Taking time to play out several scenarios, time to make mistakes and time to let ideas percolate.

Recently read books that came to satisfying conclusions (for me) include The Windup Girl, The Anubis Gates, Finch and Anathem. Two novels that left me flat are The Difference Engine (ending seemed to be more entropic than anything) and Mainspring (deus ex machina, although that may have been the point. Lack of foreshadowing made it seem out of the blue).

Robert McKee again:

…if anything will draw blood from your forehead, it’s creation the climax of the last act–the pinnacle and concentration of all meaning and emotion, the fulfillment for which all else is preparation, the decisive center of audience satisfaction. If this scene fails, the story fails. If you fail to make the poetic leap to a brilliant culminating climax, all previous scenes, characters, dialogue, and description become an elaborate typing exercise.

And there it is.

What difficulties have you encountered while bringing your novel to a satisfying close? What tools helped you along the way?

Comments ( 8 )

  1. ReplyTeresa Frohock
    Well, where the heck were you last week when I needed this post? ;-) That was one thing my agent told me that needed to be strengthened in my novel, the climax. It was a lot rougher to do than I had anticipated, but she gave me some clear direction, which helped immensely. Great post, Jonathan.
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  3. Replysarahwedgbrow
    Really need this right now. Thanks! I have literally no words of wisdom when it comes to the ending because that's what fell flat in my previous drafts. I am currently rewriting and trying to tie together all the loose ends--thank you for providing some direction! "Taking time to play out several scenarios, time to make mistakes and time to let ideas percolate." Me too.
    • Replysmiju31
      Thanks -great post on endings. Will come back to this when I need it, though I'm at the beginning of my writing. Juliet
      • ReplyJonathan Danz
        Unfortunately, it's much easier to post about endings than actually writing endings. I'm slogging a bit, but I'll write through it word by word. Thanks for stopping by!
  4. Replyjenniferneri
    great well thought out post jonathan. climax is something i think i have a handle on, but i do know that i had to come up with a system for those loose ends, threads that disappear. i've naturally gotten better at it, but i also had to force it by tedious note taking and detailed outlining after drafts are written and re-written. great pic by the way!
    • ReplyJonathan Danz
      I hear about writers who write from their ending and marvel that such a thing can happen. I could see it more in short story writing, but so much changes over the course of novel drafts, it seems improbable that writers can avoid that process of conceiving how it all fits together. Good for you for having some mechanism to hash it all out. I feel like I ruminate on it in my head before I go to sleep, when I walk the dog, doing dishes. So often I'll get crackin' on what seems like a solid ending, but as I write it, it seems inadequate. I'll have to do a little more concrete work like your note taking and outlining next time around. Glad you enjoyed the pic!

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