Thursday, February 12, 2009


After spending about a month in the deep freezer, it is looking like spring here this week (including tornado watches). Every pile of snow and patch of ice has melted, saturating the ground to the point that it can hold no more. My backyard looks like a shallow pond, and the water is seeping into my basement. (That's what I did yesterday instead of editing.)

Why can't a thaw take its good old time occurring? I hate it when weather changes overnight. My body, particularly my sinuses, can't adjust that fast.

Truly I've seen too many books that experience a kind of meltdown as the author races to get to THE END within the word count or page limit.

I was talking to a friend who stayed up late into the night reading a CBA fiction. She was savoring the storyline, but was left disappointed by the ending as all the details rushed together and too quickly tied up the ending. The wrap-up left the reader with a chocolate baking chip when she wanted a French chocolate bonbon.

How can an author avoid the ending meltdown? Here are a couple of my suggestions.

1) Outline. Over the past 15 years, I've seen that some of the best story pacing and flow comes along with an author using a prepared story outline. Many authors balk at outlining, feeling they will be fenced in, but in my experience, the outline is freeing and even helps avoid the dreaded occurrences of writer's block. The outline helps the author map out a plan to know where the story is going, still there is plenty of room for figuring out and filling in details as you go -- and even the occasional detour.

2) Self Edit. If only authors would allow themselves as much time to edit the end of the book as they generally allow for the beginning. I know as I've written, I'll often go back over the first half of the book a dozen or more times, but as I get to writing the end, the time for going back to edit is often lessened by a looming deadline. If you've rushed your writing window and not given yourself enough time to let the ending simmer, then you risk having an ending that comes across as abrupt and unfulfilled for the reader. So stew on how you will end your story and allow yourself enough time to write and rewrite it without being under the pressure of the clock.

Those are just a couple of my ideas. I'd love to hear your ideas for avoiding a story meltdown.


Susan Page Davis said...

Becky, that is SO true about going over the beginning a gazillion times, but not having time enough to let the ending sit and simmer. Deadlines are good and necessary, but if we don't pace ourselves they pressure us into not doing our best.

Donna Reimel Robinson said...

Good reminders, Becky! It's no fun reading a novel that has a rushed ending.

As a writer, it's also important to have others read your work. My critique group has caught problems that I would have never noticed.

Great post!
Donna Robinson

Mary Connealy said...

Becky, I'm hoping that picture wasn't taken in your backyard, that's major water trouble. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Ending meltdown...I know the cozy mysteries were especially tricky for me with this. I had all these loose ends to tie up and it was hard to not just force this conversation going over it, explaining it, pretty blatantly and clunk-ishly.

But they do need to be tied up so it had to be done somehow, yet to explain things too early let all the suspects off the hook.

That's not advice, that's ME TOO. Sorry. :)

Rose said...

Hi Becky,

I think this happens because author's are trying to keep their readers interested until the very last chapter but in reality, if I've read 50% of the book, I'll read until the end.

In a straight romance, I think it helps if they start resolving a few plot threads before the last chapter. For example, your heroine lost her job and has been hunting for a new one which adds stress to her budding love relationship. It's okay to let her find a job in say chapter 10 rather than the ending chapter.

Just my two cents.

Carrie Turansky said...

Hi Becky,
Thanks for those great tips. I don't want to rush the end of my stories, so I usually try to allow a little extra time to let it sit and send it to my crit partners before I do that final revision. Having my computer read it aloud to me also helps me hear the pace and pick up mistakes my eyes skip over.

Carrie Turansky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darlene Franklin said...

I know you touched a nerve in me. Not only do I not always leave enough time to go over the ending, often my critique partners aren't able to look at the last chapters either. Double whammy.

I admire people who edit as they write--so much more efficient than my method. Each of my mss goes through at least three drafts before submission: rough draft of the entire ms, self-editing, and integrating comments from my critique partners. I need almost as much time in the revision stage as in the rough draft stage, and plan for it as far as I'm able.

One advantage of 3 versions is that they allow me to smooth out story lines and adjust the ending over the course of time. Not that my endings are great!

Unknown said...

Not sure if this is the outline you're advising, but I outline as I go. I write a chapter-by-chapter as I write each chapter. I print out a fresh version every five chapters or so and keep it next to my computer. I even jot down the day the chapter took place. This keeps all my ducks in a row (so to speak). Something I found invaluable when writing the cozies. I now apply it to my other writing as well.