Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tying Up Loose Ends - Don't Let Your Reader Down

I am sure you have all experienced this same experience once or twice in your reading career. You have been plugging along with a great author and his or her lastest project. You are loving it. You can't wait to see how things play out for the hero and heroine... and then...

The conclusion totally sucks. We're talking a complete failure.

How do you feel about this? In many cases, because of this let down at the end of the book, we will frequently now rank the entire book a failure. Maybe not to the complete level of total failure, but the odds are, this is not going to be a book you will hype up with your friends.

The conclusion of your novel needs to be well planned out. You need to know that all of those loose threads you created in the early stages of the book will come together nicely, neatly and, more importantly, realistically. Unfortunately, for many authors, this doesn't happen. Too often do we see a great story get wrapped up with the sudden insertion of some random plot device that came out of the blue, just to create a situation for the characters to reach their resolution.

Think of it this way. Do you remember the episode of Dallas back in the 80's? This following information comes from another blog post by a Mickey Mills who describes it best:

There is no way you could have a discussion about dream sequences and not talk about Bobby Ewing on the hit show Dallas. Only in Hollywood…

As the story goes, Patrick Duffy, actor portraying Bobby Ewing, wanted to leave the show. Producers obliged and at the end of season 8, killed off Bobby Ewing by having his sister-in-law run him down with her car… “SQUISH!”

With Dallas ratings plummeting through the next season, Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) convinced Duffy to return to the show. (Dilemma… Isn’t the character dead?) No problem for the writers.

Dallas fans watched the cliff-hanger episode as Pam (Bobby’s widow) awoke from her wedding night – she had just married long time suitor Mark Graison- to find her new husband gone.

Pam hears the shower running in the bathroom. She slides back the shower door and there is Duffy (Bobby Ewing in his nude-not dead costume) lathering up in his birthday suit. “Good morning” he says as the credits roll. (May 1986)

So let me get this straight. As the tenth season opens, Pamela Ewing is describing for Bobby her “Dream.” It turns out that all of season nine happened in Pam’s head as she slept. Every storyline, every punch, every crooked deal, and every corny line of season nine never happened.

I fully remember that next day. Audience's around the world were fuming at this response. Sure, we see now that there was no way to bring him back into the show, but darn it, the plot device really brought things crashing down.

Your novel needs to have a graceful ending. Put closure to things.

Now, if you find that you have far too many things to bring to a close, then you might want to consider going back to many of the original storylines you inserted and see if you can trim those out, or maybe blend these back in with another plot. Potentially tie those storylines up earlier.

Just something to think about!



  1. I can think of several movies I've seen like this lately. Where my recommendation is 'it was a great film...except for the way they tried to tie things up at the end'. And my favorite author has written some of my least favorite endings ever for a similar reason. It's an interesting thing to consider - how much impact those last few pages can have on an entire body of work.

  2. Resolution is extremely important! This happens with a lot of epic fantasy novels or other stories of large scope with huge casts. Either the author forgets about a character or storyline, or they get dropped halfway through as the author decides other elements need the focus. It feels like a waste of time for the reader.

    Of course, it's not just enough to tie things up; you have to tie them up well and in a way that somewhat meets the audience's expectations/desires/wishes or subverts them in a very strong and deliberate way. I read a series a few months ago where all the loose threads were tied up through an almost literal deus ex machina. Nothing was left hanging, but the whole time I was asking, "Are you kidding me?" And another plot thread came to a conclusion totally contrary to what the reader had been set up to expect, and there wasn't any real reason for that subversion. It didn't add to the story, make any sort of statement, etc. It just kind of happened and the characters involved all seemed to shrug and say "OK, whatever." It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating, especially given the care and detail throughout the rest of the series. And it has colored my whole perception. Before I finished the last book, I'd recommend that series to lots of people. Now I note that the ending is kinda disappointing.