Jilly: The Big Finish

The Big FinishI’m looking for recommendations and inspiration. Who do you think writes really great endings?

I’m not quite there yet – ask me again next week – but I’m close enough that endings are very much on my mind right now. I’m not the only one: check out this recent post by 8LW favorite Chuck Wendig, entitled ‘Why It’s Important To Finish Your Shit.’

As always, Chuck is spot on, but this time he’s preaching to the converted. I’ve had my head down, refused some really tempting social invitations, haven’t read a single new book in ages, because I really, really want to Finish My Shit. I want to enter the RWA 2015 Golden Heart contest for unpublished romance writers, which opens for entries in a couple of days’ time and closes on 12 January, though TBH that’s just an extra tasty carrot to make me push towards the finish line. More than anything I don’t want to spend another year tweaking this story (well, not unless an agent or a publisher asks me to 😉 ).

My One Goal To Rule Them All for this year was to Finish The Damn Book. I’m pretty sure I’m going to make it, but I still have a couple of important wrinkles to iron out if this story is to end the way I want it to. My problem is not whether to finish, but how to finish. I’m not going for anything fancy. All I want for my birthday (two weeks today) is a final handful of scenes with:

🙂 Faster Pacing;
🙂 Escalating Tension;
🙂 All sub-plots convincingly resolved before the Big Story Question (as raised in the opening scene) is answered;
🙂 The Big Story Question answered in a convincing and emotionally satisfying way;
🙂 Nothing else.

I’ve been thinking about my favorite books by my favorite authors. Some of them wrap their stories up spectacularly well, others not so much. As a reader, my pet peeves about endings are:

😦 Wrapping up the main plot and then tidying up loose ends afterwards. By then, who cares?
😦 Epilogues, one year later scenes, wedding scenes, baby scenes. Frex, I love everything about SEP’s Ain’t She Sweet except the surprise pregnancy announcement at the very end.
😦 Sequel bait. Introducing a new character, scene, interaction that’s not there to serve the current story but to line up the next one, just when everything’s getting really juicy. Grrr. I’d much rather have the first chapter from the next story included at the back of the book.

I like to read a little something before I go to bed every night, and lately I’ve been spoiling myself with Georgette Heyer. First, because I know the books so well, I can dip in and out and enjoy them without dragging my head out of my own story. Second, because they’re witty and light, and I can enjoy them even when my emotional reserves are drained. And third, because damn, that woman is a genius at finishing a story. She takes time at the beginning to introduce characters and set up family dynamics in a way that feels very leisurely to the modern reader, but the spectacular way she pulls all the threads together at the end makes me gasp with admiration. And then boom! the book is done. Brilliant. At the moment I’m re-reading Unknown Ajax. I’ve finished Cotillion and next will be The Grand Sophy.

So…suggestions, please. I’m looking for inspiration. Books (especially romances) that end with a bang, not a whimper. Authors that tie up all the loose ends for the reader in one big, sparkling, spectacular bow. Thank you!

9 thoughts on “Jilly: The Big Finish

  1. If you’re willing to step out of fiction and into tv/movies, anything by Joss Whedon fits that description. His plotting feels like he throws himself off a cliff and figures out how to land on the way down. He never hedges his bets so there’s an easy way out. His stories feel like there’s no conceivable positive resolution to the stituation, but at the end he always manages to pull it off.

    I’ve been trying to emulate him with the result that it feels like I’ve painted myself into a corner. The final scene I wrote when we were at McDaniel really doesn’t work with the way the characters evolved as I wrote my draft and now I have myself hemmed in with a protagonist who’s been reduced to a walking robot trying to rescue himself and his lady.

    So good luck to both of us!

    • Good luck to both of us, Jeanne. Your protagonist is smart, resourceful and sexy, and I have no doubt he will find a spectacular way to save the day. He is so not a walking robot. And if you feel the urge to do a campfire chat or brainstorm, just say the word 🙂

      And thanks for the excellent reminder about Joss Whedon. Last year I was lucky enough to get a ticket for an In Conversation event with him, Amy Acker and Alexis Denisov, at the NFT in London. I might go back and re-watch that tonight. It’s 40 minutes long, available here http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/video/video-joss-whedon-conversation.

  2. I’m still reading the Pennyroyal Green series you recommended Jilly – a few of those have terrific endings. I’ve just this second finished How the Marquess was Won and that might be worth a reread for you (plus, rereads less likely to pull you out of our own story). Good luck – can’t wait yo hear how you get on.

    • Good thinking, Rachel, thanks – that goes next on the re-read list after The Grand Sophy. I love the Pennyroyal Green books – I adore the community, and the fact that they aren’t just about the aristocracy. There’s wealth, old money/new money snobbery, power-broking, and plenty of social issues, all handled with a lovely light touch and bags of humor. I’m really looking forward to the next book – so annoying that I keep seeing emails from Amz about it, but release date is next March or something.

  3. Oh, yeah, Heyer writes good endings. They satisfy!

    (-: And I bet you knew I was going to say Bujold. I read a blurb at the end of one that said, “I read the book, then turned around and read it all again right away.” And I thought to myself, “What a great idea!” and did it myself. THAT’S a great ending! I like all of her endings, but I think Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance might be an especially memorable one.

    And the epilogue drablets (flash? 100-word vignettes) she ended Cryoburn with made me cry. And I wasn’t angry at her afterwards for making me cry, either.

    She wraps everything up in a satisfying fashion. She never ends with sequel bait or cliffhangers (bless her) (although Baen will often include the first chapter of the next book, which I think is allowable — I can choose to read it or not). There’s that warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart at the end of most of them, and I want to go back and re-read almost all of them.

    I don’t mind an epilogue if it’s “frosting on the cake” — a sweet little bit that finishes the book. But if it’s mostly cake? I’m not too happy about that. And if it’s an amuse-bouche for the next meal? Well, depends on the author.

    Good luck to everyone in the home stretch this December!

    • Yes, of course I knew you were going to say Bujold 🙂 . I’m going to read Cordelia’s Honor and A Civil Campaign again, slowly, over the Christmas holidays. Then maybe I’ll ask you for some more recommendations.

  4. I think you and I are on the same wavelength, Jilly. Heyer, Golden Heart, finishing the damn book. We better have some good wine when you’re here in January!

    The finish to The Unknown Ajax is amazing. She certainly takes her time about it, but in such a GOOD way. She draws out the tension, doesn’t scrimp on any character’s reaction to the events, and provides such a satisfying ending. I’m listening to Frederica and am about 2 hours from being done…I read this before a long time ago, but there’s something different about listening to the story. If you find yourself on the tube or walking around London, I’d highly recommend downloading a book and giving a listen. It’s a great way to pass the time (and listening to Heyer is quite simply fantastic).

    • We are definitely on the same wavelength, Justine! Weirdly, I have never bought an audiobook in my life, but I might have to try it. I have the same old playlists on my iPod, I’ve flogged them to death but I probably won’t make new ones until I start a new book. A delicious burst of Heyer sounds much more fun.

      And January…good company, good book noise, and a glass of good wine – heaven! I can’t wait!

      • There’s a Heyer that’s simply fantastic. The reader did such a good job with all of the voices (and that’s the thing — once you learn the voices, you really don’t pay attention to the dialogue tags to know who’s talking…it’s like they’re acting it out on your iPod!). I’ll look on my list and let you know. I subscribe to Audible.com for something like $13/month, which entitles me to one credit (or one book download) a month. Every now and again, you can purchase 2-for-1 credits, or they give you an extra credit or two for more books. I think Amazon does something similar with their reader membership thing (can’t think of what it’s called right now), but I like the Audible interface and the book selection. Being a member, you can also purchase books at a discount (sometimes substantial).

        Let me warn you, though…it’s highly addictive. I listen whenever I can — folding laundry, doing the dishes, making dinner (I play it on my Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen a lot), driving, walking, playing solitare…you name it. My kids have gotten used to me walking around with ear buds in my ears!

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