Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where's "The End?"

What I'm reading: Watch Me, by Brenda Novak

Thanks to Jeff for his fascinating tale of the Jersey Devil. Not something I care to meet up with on a dark night. Or even in broad daylight.

The boring, real-life stuff: Communication. Why is it so hard? I'm STILL going round and round with the dryer repair people, who can't seem to communicate with each other, much less me. I call, they check, they need more information. "We'll call you right back." Yeah, right.

Hasn't happened yet. We've gone back to square one with the company that administers our extended warranty. They agree the best way to proceed is to file a brand new claim, specifying that another company handle the repair job. I won't mention how the first person took all my information, read it back to me and said she'd transfer me to Customer Service. "All they have to do is copy and paste my report and confirm your address. It'll only take a minute." Yeah, right. "Oh, but you've been transferred from a different department. We have to fill out the forms the right way." So I repeat my story. We conclude with, "Someone will call you to set up an appointment within 3 business days." Yeah, right, I repeat.

For the record, my first call to the warranty people was on July 27th. The biggest problem seems to be that the dryer in question is so good that nobody ever needs a repair job, so nobody knows how to deal with the manufacturer. Next time, maybe I should buy a clunker. At least the repair folks will have had lots of experience fixing them.

Back to writing:

Keep Reading...

With my final edits turned in (and only one new typo found after I hit "send", but my editor said she'd alert the copyeditor) it was time to get back to my mystery.

As I opened the document and looked at where I'd left off, my first reaction was, "Who ARE these people?" I had to back up and read the last few chapters I'd written to remember what was going on. And, as always when I get near to where the end should be, I find I still have more to say.

I'd been watching word count on this novel, trying to meet publishing guidelines of 70-90,000 words. Normally, I'm happy at a bit over 100,000 for a first draft, but when I hit the 70K mark in this manuscript, I realized I couldn't possibly wrap it up in 10,000 more words. Maybe I could squeeze it in under 90.

Not going to happen. I'm almost there already, and I haven't caught the bad guy, although we know who he is. As a matter of fact, he's captured four of my major characters and is holding them hostage. I haven't revealed his motive for being a bad guy (and it's still a bit shaky – needs a bit more depth), nor have I dealt with the resolution of either of the relationships that have been growing. Not to mention, the whole book has revolved around finding a secret, and that hasn't been revealed yet either.

I've decided (again) that I have to write the book until everything is covered. Then I can go back and see if I've had too much 'fun' and put in brilliant writing that doesn't advance the plot. But I'm afraid if I try to rush the ending, the book will fall flat. And if I try to cut now, I might be deleting critical details. Time to get back to the storyboard and review all my plot points and reveals.

I have Gordon, my police chief. He's got his duties to perform, and solving the case I threw at him is only one of them. Plus, the case has more than one victim, and he's got to put everything together. Then, I have my elderly couple, Rose and Sam, who are at the crux of the mystery. Megan is their ward, and Justin is their grandson. They've all got their own priorities at the beginning of the book, and they've been moving closer together as the book progresses.

Looking at what I had, I realized that to move forward I was going to have to break with the structure I'd been following with scene length, chapter length, and POV shifts. It's about the STORY, stupid. Trying to balance five important characters, even if only three are POV characters has been my challenge. They're not together all the time. And this isn't a romantic suspense where you throw the hero and heroine together on page 3 and they're in each other's pocket for the duration of the book. It's a mystery (actually, all my books are mysteries, and there's only one where hero and heroine are together almost all the way through the book).

As I struggled to bring things to a close, I figured out that there was no "rule" that said I couldn't extend one of Gordon's scenes a few pages longer in order to cover some critical plot points. Or just because I'd been writing chapters with a Gordon POV scene alternating with a Megan or Justin POV scene, that wasn't a "rule" either. IT'S THE STORY, STUPID!

So, now I'm left with deciding if I can capture the bad guy and still have another two chapters to wrap up the mystery behind it. Have I left too much for exposition, or does logic dictate that a lot of the finer points wouldn't be revealed until they have the bad guy in custody? As a reader, I don't like abrupt endings. Give me a little time to ease out of the story, to feel comfortable that things have been wrapped up, and give me another peek at the characters and how they adjust to what they've been through.

Any thoughts?


Jess said...

altho abrupt endings are never good, neither should the story drag on after the conflict has been solved. the end should be like...oh...chocolate cake after a good dinner, not like a 3 hour drive home after you land at an airport. Mixing metaphors is fun.

Terry Odell said...

Ah, but it's the 'order of conflict solution' that's challenging me at the moment. Careful, because you're probably going to be called upon to read it.

Elena said...

When it hit me that I had embarked on what clearly was going to become a three volume mystery, desperation led me to a very workable idea. I stopped where I was and wrote the last chapter, then the next to the last. At that point working backwards I ruthlessly tore into all the previous chapters to make them flow into the new last two.
While my agent had plenty to say, she never noticed the seaming I did.

Terry Odell said...

Elena, that's SO against my chronological bent, but I've actually been toying with doing just that for this book! I do know what's supposed to happen at the end, it's just getting there that's driving me crazy.