Friday, February 18, 2011

Are we there yet?

How do you know when you’re done writing your novel? It hadn’t occurred to me to wonder until Larry asked, “Are you satisfied with this ending?”
Actually, I was. He’d written a killer last line. Then the epilogue shows us where the surviving characters are, and what they’re doing two years down the road, which sets up the sequel.
So I said, “Yeah, I’m good with it.”
He made a face. “It doesn’t feel finished.”
“Finished? We tied up all the loose ends. The danger is past. The last line was a comic note after all the drama. What else is there?”
“I don’t know.”
Long, thoughtful pause while I tried to figure out what to say next.  “Do you want to try writing something more?”

Which begs the question: When is a book done? We obviously have differing opinions, and even if he can’t say why, it still doesn’t feel finished to him. For me, ending with action is fine, especially the way he did it—with a laugh.
My primary concern with adding more to our original ending is the risk of boring the reader after they’ve learned all there is to know. The bad guys are taken care of, the good guys win—what else is there?
This summer I read a book where a guy goes on this wild and dangerous treasure hunt, lots of people end up dead, and the last chapter is him back in his classroom teaching. Bo-ring! Mostly I just scanned through the last dozen pages looking for something interesting—and there wasn’t anything.
It was a limp-noodle ending to an otherwise suspenseful, engaging novel.
Of course, I’m sure there’s probably middle ground between ending with action that leaves a reader wanting more and boring the reader to death. 
Right now, we don’t know what that is.
            So please stay tuned, just in case we figure it out.

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