Friday, July 4, 2008

Wrap it all up in the end

Tip of the day: Happy 4th of July! Have fun, but be careful! Have a bucket of water ready and a hose nearby, just in case.

We've sprinted out the gate at the beginning, perhaps going back a hundred times to rewrite it, hoping to get just the right balance of action, backstory, voice, and character.

We've muddled our way through the middle, hopefully increasing the tension as we go, putting more and more obstacles in our character's way.

Now it's time wrap everything up. Should be easy, right? Um, hardly.

You're now just pages away from being done with the book. But first, you have to write the climax. And you have to tie up any and all loose threads. Can this get a little overwhelming? In a word? Yes!

The climatic scene is the one you've been pushing towards. In WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL, Albert Zuckerman calls this scene the "obligatory scene." It's "the scene that must happen or must be made to happen." This is where the conflict that's been present through the whole book is resolved.

Darcy Pattison, in her book, NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE, examines the obligatory scene. There's a lot of information there, but here's what I take away from what she says.

The initial conflict and the final resolution, this obligatory scene, must match up. This scene usually includes the major characters. It's a big scene, often covering a larger number of pages. It is usually one of the most emotionally powerful. "It often contains a revelation, a complication, a reversal, a twist, a new meaning for old events, or something else that surprises the reader someway. (These surprises must have been prepared for and be believable.) The outcome of the obligatory scene drastically changes the future of an individual character or changes the dynamics between the characters. In other words, the outcome has meaning beyond the mere physical actions."

I am a big fan of a surprise at the climax. But understand, as Darcy says above, it HAS to be believable. And has to be a surprise in a GOOD way. It has to be something that makes the reader's heart sing, not something that confuses the reader or makes her mad.

See, to me, there is no better payoff as a reader than to have something I wasn't expecting happen, and yet have it be SO emotionally satisfying, you want to cry, or cheer, or gasp. Maybe you even DO cry, or cheer, or gasp.

In I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, the climax occurs when Ava realizes she has to ask Jackson to leave. She loves him, she will always love him, but she can't love him as a ghost. His response to her is a surprise to the reader. It's a surprise to Ava! (I won't say what it is, to avoid spoilers, although if you haven't read it yet, why not? Ha!). Although I don't think he came back as a ghost with that intention, as time went on, and he grew as a character, he knew it was what he needed to do to help her most of all.

I will be honest - in my books where there is a surprise, or a twist, I don't usually PLAN those. They come to me as I write. When I wrote that page where Jackson gives his response, it wasn't anything I had consciously thought of before. I think my sub-conscious had been working on it for awhile. But when it appeared, I actually got chills and I knew without a doubt, it was the right thing to do. To me, that's the best indicator - you get a spine-tingling YES when you write the climatic scene the way it's supposed to be written. Of course it doesn't always come that easily. But don't lose heart. You can still get there.

The thing is - if you are going to get anything right, make it be this. The reader has followed the character through an entire book to get HERE. You have to make it good. You have to make it worthwhile, so the reader will end up putting the book down with a lovely "ahhhhh" and not throwing the book across the room with a loud "Arrrrghhhhhhh!!"

If you don't know what the best resolution is, play the what-if game. At the top of a page, write "What If" - and then list one way the book could end. Draw a line down the middle of the paper, and on one side, list the good things about that ending, and on the other side, write the not-so-good things. Keep brainstorming. The right way WILL come to you.

As for the question, do all endings in kid-lit need to be happy, I'll give you the answer to this question I like the best. It comes from Alvina Lina, an editor at Little Brown, who spoke at a conference I attended a few years back. She said in books for kids and teens, the ending doesn't necessarily have to be happy, but it has to have hope.

So, after you've done the climatic scene, you have to wrap everything up and be fairly brief about it. In both I HEART YOU, and FAR FROM YOU, my editor had to tell me to cut stuff at the end. Yes, there are things to tie up, but the best part of the book is basically over, and you can't go on for too much longer after that. If you can, do a scene where a lot of the people in the book are there so the loose-ends can be tied up with multiple characters in one scene.

There is nothing better than a great ending to a book. So often times, people talk about great beginnings, and while they need to keep a reader reading, it's the ending that will often stick with a person.

I'd love to hear if any of you have read a book recently that made you go WOW at the end. I was recently rereading RULES, and that's one that for me, really works. It's very emotionally satisfying. That's what we want. To be satisfied. The hard part is doing it so the reader isn't quite sure how you're going to pull it off.

Happy writing!

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed


Anonymous said...

I think the example you've given here, of the climax of I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME is a great and resounding one. I know it's stuck with me!

As for endings, I like the satisfying ending of Kathi Appelt's THE UNDERNEATH.

amuse me said...

Lisa -- thank you. As I'm reading your post, I got that spine-tingling feeling of exactly how my characters come together at the end of the romance story I've been working on. It is so-o-o-o much better than I had thought of before. Whew!