Denouements: My Nemesis

I love writing books. Don’t get me wrong: it can often be a frustrating process, and it’s definitely time consuming, but I love writing books more than I love reading books, and that should say something right there.

There are many things about the book writing process that I enjoy. Plotting the thing out in the first place is a lot of fun, and I have a great time figuring out plot snares that come up. I love being able to go back in time in the book and write my way out of a jam. Climaxes are always a pleasure. Beginnings are fantastic. Middles can get a little bit down now and then, but I can usually come up with something to spice things up enough to keep me pushing forward.

The one part of a book that I consistently do not enjoy writing at all is denouements. (For you non-literature folks out there, that’s the stuff that happens after the climax.) The action is all over. There are no more conflicts to really settle. And I’m stuck with a few thousand words left to churn through before I can get to the part I really want to be able to say: The End. You would think this would be the easy part. Maybe it is for some authors. But for me, the driving force behind writing the book is figuring out what’s going to come next. I have a hard time caring about what happens after that.

My typical approach is just to write something and then listen to me alpha and beta readers after they’ve read through the book. I fully expect them to say, “I had a real hard time with the ending.” That’s when I ask, “What were you really expecting? What was missing?” At that point, they tell me what they were looking for, and I revise to fit those expectations.

Some of the problem stems from there just being too many threads for me to keep track of sometimes when it comes to the plot. I get lost in all the different balls I have to keep up in the air. I know I need to not drop any of them, and I get so focused on that I begin to lose sight of which ones are more important than the others. So at the end, I forget which to highlight and make sure I wrap up properly.

The good news is that I’m complaining about this right now because I’m about to finish the first draft of my 19th book, still tentatively titled THE AXEMAN. It looks like it’s going to clock in around 78,000 words, which is 3,000 longer than I was shooting for. Not bad, though I realize there’s a lot of fluff in there that’ll need to come out, and my writing group has already identified plenty more that needs to come in.

Though then again, I really enjoy the revision process too. (I’ve always felt like I’m a better reviser than I am a first drafter, so once I can get the first draft out in front of me and look at the whole thing, I feel like I can do a lot to it to make it much better. That’s a good feeling.) But before I can get to that revision, I have to finish the denouement.

Tell me: does anyone out there really love denouements? Has anyone read a book and said, “I loved this whole thing, but the denouement was so terrible it made me hate the book.” Since I know I’m just going to revise it anyway, maybe I should just make my standard denouements for all first drafts, “And then everything you figured was going to happen happened. The end.” Think I can get away with it?


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