Climax and the Cigarette Moment

The Cigarette Moment

Yesterday I went trolling for blog post ideas.  I’m more or less on the brink of not having any, or, as one of our group members put it, when we were doing a short story a week, “Every Saturday I get up and stare into the abyss.”

This is worse when there are things going on in my life/life in general that require my attention.  I probably won’t be giving anyone great news if I say that I don’t blog about my private life in detail, even when I seem to.  It used to be, when the kids were much younger that I deliberately obfuscated anything having to do with them, because I was afraid the younger one would get kidnapped.  (The older on?  From about the time Robert was five, I pity the fool who’d try to grab him against his will.  Dangerous under any conditions comes to mind.  Took me a little longer to get the younger one up to snuff.)

Now, let me start by dismissing fatal illness or divorce or any of the big nasties.  There’s nothing like that going on in my life.  It’s mostly “Stuff that needs to get done” in the administrative sense which, because G-d has a sense of humor, all hit in the last couple of months, and also my awareness (since precious little has been done about it) that this house needs to be readied for sale partly for our financial survival, partly because we’re likely to move (though it’s now at least two years.)

It’s just some days I feel as though I’m being pulled in five different directions, I’m exhausted by noon, and I’ve yet to do any writing.

Which brings us to the going trolling for blog ideas – on my facebook conference – and getting a request to write about ends.  What makes a satisfying end?  All books end, of course, but how many do you close and walk away feeling “curiously unsatisfied?”

First of all, I intuited the importance of ends in fourth grade.  When writing school essays, I was aware that if I started well and finished with a bang, the teacher would forgive any number of noodling in the middle.

So – this works for essays – I borrowed from poetry and started with some big evocative image, which I would then bring the essay around to again, in the end.  Say the visual was Atlantis sinking, in the end I’d bring it again, to the waves closing over the land mass, as if it had never been.  Even if the metaphor were being used for… things people would rather ignore, or someone’s feelings, it worked.

Second, unfortunately it turns out that novels aren’t essays.  You need more than a cute image to open and close, and if you lose the plot in the middle, people are likely to tell.  Unless you’re writing for the sort of refined sphere from which the books came that we had to study in Modern Literature.  But then again, if you come from there it’s also perfectly all right to chop your novel to pieces and put them together in random fashion.  I’m not sure what a satisfying end is in that case, but it’s probably a Nobel prize of literature.

For the rest of us… for the rest of us it still needs to work.

Third, what makes the ending satisfying is what comes before – be it the beginning of the essay or, in a novel, the slow build of theme and problem in the middle.  In other words, what makes an ending satisfying is when the people you’ve been rooting for win and the right sobs you wanted dead die.  This might seem simplistic.  “But what if there’s no one whom you want to win?  No one you want to lose?”  Well, then it’s possible you’re writing grey goo.  Look, weirdly, people don’t read to experience what they experience in daily life.  The difference in fiction is that it makes sense and we know whom to root for.  This is, btw, the difference between Marlowe and Shakespeare.  Marlowe was far more realistic, and in a way, probably “better” in the sense that he tried to make it harder to root for someone.  (Oooh, so sharp he cut himself, right?) But Shakespeare, by clearly signaling who to root for, grounded people in the story and left the way open to concentrate on the really important stuff, like “real” characters and making everything else seem vitally important.  In other words, he used the “whom to root for” as scaffolding and upon it built the “slice of humanity” important stuff.  Because humans like things to make sense, that gave him a huge advantage.

So – give us someone to root for, and build upon it, so we really want the problem resolved the way we want it.

Four, of course, that is not all.  The minimalists, who can never be sufficiently reviled and who, for choice, should be hoisted on a stake – minimalist.  Made of clear glass.  It would make them so happy.  All function, no form – for years wrote how-to books telling you that when the action is over the novel is over.  This led to books where the couple finally got sort of together, and the minute it became clear she would say yes, the book… ended.

This is somehow very frustrating to human instincts.  Campbell talks about the return from the journey and seeing the hero again in his normal environment.  Heed the man.  He knows of which he speaks.  The other is a fable for grown up children who attend graduate school and want to be hip and speshul.

Or, as my husband explained to me when I briefly succumbed to the siren song of minimalism, “It’s like you just had incredible sex and as the last tremors pass, your lover kicks you out of bed and gives you cab money.  Most humans prefer cuddling and if they smoke maybe a cigarette.”  (He started critiquing my books’ “cigarette moment.” – i.e. the reward for what you just put the reader through.)


Five – sometimes ends don’t come naturally.  Oh, right.  Yes, when you start the book, you sort of know how it will end… by and large.  “They end up together” “the colony thrives”  “he gets shot in the fracas’ – whatever.  BUT once you’ve gone 300 pages, that end might no longer feel “right.”  Or it might feel too strong or not strong enough.  Or there’s some minor character who wasn’t even in the original idea whose end needs to be tied up.  (I can see this post will unleash no end of puns.  Go on then.  I’m not afraid of you.)

Just finish it anyhow, then work on the end in revision.  And run it by your beta readers, who will tell you if you got it just right.

Lately I’ve been plagued by double climaxes (what?  You complain about this? – Shuddup, you.  I’m talking in writing, of course) which means that I find the book is having its big to-do battle before it should, and still leaving things untied.  It’s very annoying, but it’s part of increasing complexity.  (Witchfinder is headed that way, btw.)

After struggling with one of the ends, it finally hit me this is perfectly all right, provided the second climax is bigger than the first.  (Shut up you.)

Anyway – so, to have a good end to a story, make sure you have a strong plot, build upon it by letting us know who to root for, and in the end spare not the cigarette moment.

Oh, yeah, and for the record, strong imagery at the beginning and end still works – provided everything works in between.

So, finishing a book is easy… provided you know how to write it.  And yeah, guys, I’m still working at it.

Which is why this ending is kind of lame.  Deal with it.  Anyone got a cigarette?  I need cab money.


135 responses to “Climax and the Cigarette Moment

  1. One thing I’m wondering about with my own novel is if I have TOO MUCH act 3. The novel is vast and sprawling (I think I mentioned that I’ve actually split it into two). The two books together are going to clock in at around 250,000 words (~ 1,100 pages). There are almost a dozen threads, and in the current draft of act 3 I tie up perhaps 80% of these with satisfying conclusions. This means that act 3 is around 15,000 words (or 60 pages). Also, while the climax at the end of act 2-b is huge (in a “space opera huge” way) and stunningly cinematic, it’s all set in a world where real things happen, and the entire plot doesn’t wrap up: there are prisoners, enmities, new trade routes, a new marriage, etc., and act 3 notes that each of these things happens and suggests that each story continues into the future.

    I’m trying to strike the fine line between “concluding THIS story” and “hinting at the NEXT story”.

    Not sure I’m quite there yet, but there’s a draft or two yet to go!

    • Are you rewriting Star Wars? Sounds awesome 🙂

      • If so, you’d better hurry up before Pixar beats you to it.

      • No, no Star Wars. 😉 If I’m rewriting anything, it’s Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: anarchic libertarians on the moon stage a revolt.

        Heinlein had just two threads: Manny and Mike, and Manny/Prof/Wy. Or maybe it was just one thread with all of them mixed in.

        My sprawling 1100 page story has a dozen threads:
        * tunneling company CEO
        * US president and senator
        * DoD
        * deep cover special forces
        * genetically modified dogs
        * college-aged war blogger journalists
        * etc. etc. etc.

        I prefer not to think of it as a re-write so much as an homage. Or perhaps a love letter (strictly monogamous; no line-marriage intended! 😉


        Recent excerpt:

        > Sounds awesome

        Thanks! My alpha readers have all told me it’s good. Fingers crossed that the general public is as deluded as my e-friends are. 😉

    • One thing you might consider, since you’ve split the book, is rolling up some of those threads at the end of book one, to give a satisfying feel to that end, while leaving enough of a cliffhanger to get them to buy the second book. If you disappoint at the end of book one, the readers might decide to pass on book two.

      • I like the John Sandford trick in his detective novels: he established a main character (Lucas Davenport) and wrote a long series about him. Then, as Davenport aged and got less exciting as a character (married, kids etc), Sandford introduced “spinoff” characters (Virgil Flowers etc) who are Davenport’s subordinates or acquaintances, each with their own adventures, and with Davenport now doing only a few guest apperances. So far, it’s worked. (Full disclosure: I have all the Davenport and Flowers novels; he’s my guilty pleasure.)

        • I have seen other authors do that trick, done well it is the best way I have ever seen to keep a series from going stale.

        • Just by way of noting a similar exercise in a different format, the same thing has been done in the Judge Parker newspaper comic strip, with the Judge aging out and the general story burden being carried by his protege, idealistic young attorney Sam Driver, and as Sam aged Judge Parker’s now-grown son Randy stepped forward.

          Parker was one of three soap opera strips created by its writer, the other two being Rex Morgan, M.D. and Apartment 3-G.

  2. Ah the gentle art of ending. I started outlining because I wasn’t going to start any more stories where I got half way through and it died on me. A stack of half-finished outlines is less frustrating than a stack of half-finished stories.

    Though I wrote my first novel because it snuck up to me, disguised as a novella, or maybe even a novelette. I was running through the first draft, throwing things out to keep it short, when I reached the ending and the main character said I’m still not happy. Devised another. I’m still not happy. Devised a third, made him happy, and went back for two more passes putting in everything that I had left out to keep it short.

    • The halfway through death is actually normal. If you push past — will power! — it revives.

      • Push through to where? It wasn’t just that I lost interest, it was that I had no notion where to push to.

        • That’s when I have a shower or I talk to the character– Yep I talk to my characters–deal with it. lol I find a way out of it eventually.

          • I know that some outliners structure their story so much that it just dies– loosen it up some and ask yourself, what would this character do? Where would he go? Add movement if you hit a stopping point or add a character. I find that animals add a dimension to my stories if I am stuck. I used a goat herd to add comic to an otherwise tension-filled story.

            • Yep. It becomes a recital piece.

            • My stories don’t die in transition from outlining.
              I’ve always wonder how people who can’t outline because it dies — manage to revise

              • I am a panster– When the story dies, it usually means I need to get a breath of fresh air. A little movement on my part helps the story move too. The brain is part of the body and needs nourishment.

                • I have to outline. Not in terrific detail, but it gives me enough to keep going. If I don’t, the story just peters out.

                  • I have my characters on a list and I’ll say– well I haven’t heard from so-and-so for awhile… so I’ll do the next chapter on that character— in creative non-fiction it is called (I can’t find it now)… I think it is called threading– It is like braiding your characters… one character… than another… and then the next one… It makes for a tighter story sometimes. Plus I usually play with several characters. It is rare for me to use one– or even first person (I am doing first person in my latest efforts for the first time.)

                    • If I don’t, the story just peters out.

                      The vision, unbidden, came of a scene in a story in which all the characters are in a dramatic situation room, trying to solve a crisis, when all dialog just tapers off. They all sit back, looking around at each other. Maybe one starts to doze.

                      Guys named Peter start appearing all over the room trying to introduce themselves, “Hi. I’m Peter.” All shapes, all sizes, all colors, teleporting in, popping up out of the waste basket, cascades of them falling out of the broom closet like stacks of quickly hidden then as quickly forgotten clutter…they are everywhere, forcing the characters up out of their seats to stand on the conference table.

                      A loud roar builds behind the shaded windows. A few hairline cracks appear, then all at once a torrent of Peters floods into the room and the character succumb under a wave of polite greetings.

                    • Scott, what are you drinking, where did you get it, do they ship, and can I try some?

                    • Coke Zero laced with frustration. I think Walgreens carries it.

                    • G-d, pass it here. I’ve reached the combination of nerves and PTSD these last three days when having Elder Gods eat my soul would be a relief.

                    • Well, I can email you the frustration, but I don’t think there’s enough bandwidth to beam you over the Coke Zero. Not without it tasting a bit aluminumy, anyway.

                    • I’m drinking coke with splenda, though.

                    • How low-cal of you 🙂

                    • This is probably not the optimum drink for character based writing because, as we all know, things go better with Coke.

                      For really good character drinking, I suggest Peppermint Schnapps or Retsina, because after imbibing those any character, no matter how vile, will leave a more pleasant taste in your mouth.

                    • Pepsi Throwback. Real sugar, real caffeine, real buzz.

                • With hindsight, it was probably that the problem, the characters, and the settings all had insufficient stuff in them to sustain a story. I was in my mid-teens when I discovered the marvels of outlining.

              • I don’t know about them. The answer for me is that the whole story as written so far fits into my head at one time. When something requires a part that has already been written to change, I go back and change it accordingly. I am obsessed with continuity, largely because a continuity break kicks me out of the flow of reading and I don’t like to do that to my readers.

                This is for big stuff: for little things like the hair color of a walk-on, I just trust I’ll find it during final read-through since, as I said, continuity breaks make me insane. So far, so good.

              • Revising is a different mind-set. I’ve done both outlining and not outlining. Outlining tends to make my plots simplistic. I know that sounds weird. And all my stories STILL die halfway through.

                • I lost power from the hurricane and was forced to turn to pen-and-paper for 24 hours. I’m just finishing book 2’s Act 1 (of 4), so I used this opportunity to do a semi-detailed outline for as far as I could get in a day, which proved to be Acts 2 & 3. I already had a rough sketch of the main architectural points and a few details, for the whole thing.

                  Now, I have a main storyline, and some accompanying secondary characters with their own actions What I discovered, as I concentrated on some detail in the outlining process, were two things I didn’t expect.

                  First, the level of detail I wanted to get down as prep for actual writing was all over the place, from sketchy “this happens, this happens” to “almost 1st draft dialogue details” that I know will be fast to write up when I get to them. I just expanded the bits I wanted to as I went along wherever it seemed necessary or right, for the inspiration of the moment.

                  The other thing I found, which was more unexpected, was that the deeper I got into it, the less I cared about anything other than the main storyline. That’s what I outlined all day. Now, I’ll have to carry along the secondary stories and characters, too, in their own scenes, but I didn’t CARE about them as I was pounding it out, and clearly the reader won’t either, though I’ll make him take his medicine in the real book to make the meal more tasty and complicated (and to raise the suspense for the main story line).

                  It was so helpful to have that much main storyline plot all in my head at once, however briefly, and I’m sure it will make fitting the other bits around it much easier, if this part is solid.

                  • I go all over the place with outline detail too. After all, you don’t want to miss the perfect line of dialog, with wit and snap to it, just because you thought of it while outlining.

                • I’ve only got two books under my belt (and neither published yet) so my opinion doesn’t carry much weight, but nonetheless: I’ve gone from outlining to not outlining back to outlining IN ONE PROJECT. I find that an outline is good to keep me hitting certain beats, but then I end up generating branches and shoots as I go that demand more attention, and that causes me to diverge from the outline (in a good way: with more interesting complexity, not in a bad way of leaving me rudderless and without a destination). But at some point, the extra complexity needs to be tamed, so I re-outline what I’ve got, stare at it hard, move stuff around, and figure out how to clean up the slight mess that was the byproduct of the creativity.

                  I’m planning on following these two novels with another pair set 10 years later (hopefully WRITTEN AND RELEASED a bit sooner than that, though. ;-). Right now the pain of a recent re-out-line-and-fix session is crisp in my memory, so I’m hoping that I can lean a bit more towards outlining for the next two.

              • I apparently can’t outline because I have no idea if a scene is any good before I write it, and different scenes imply differences in the rest of the story.

                After I have 3/5 to 3/4 of the scenes, I can see the story structure. I have a lot of trouble with the first draft and very little with revising, therefore.

          • they listen more when I say, okay, you’re not appearing in a story until you cough up the ending

        • If you must, write the ultimate end of your story, and work backwards, or toward it. I did this with my first novel and it worked fine. Of course part of this is that I write in scenes and the last scene came to me while I was about a third of the way done.

          If you don’t know your story’s ultimate end, well, then, yes, you have a problem if you are not a pantser. (If you are, then it’s not important. Tell story until you hit a good breaking point, type “The End!” and start on the sequel.) That’s something you need to work out. From first principles: What should be the final state of your characters? Will they have been changed? Or will they change others? Do they deserve a happy ending or a sad one? Does deserve have anything to do with it? How would the conflict in which they are involved be *expected* to end? Is there a good reason for it to turn out in a manner other than that? If so, what is it?

          Etc, etc.

          • While I might have an idea where I’d like a story to end, I don’t always know b/c, as artsy-fartsy as this may sound, the story always has a life of its own and constantly surprises me with where it ends up. When it develops, it usually leads me to the ending rather than the other way around.

            • YES. It “FLIPS”. GAH.

            • While nothing can stop a story from doing what it wants, “the end” is a variable precision observation. Does your protagonist succeed or does she fail? (Protagonists don’t always succeed, obviously, even in definitive endings. The protagonists of my stories fail quite a large amount of the time, for conventional meanings of the word “fail.” Their antagonists get what they want, and the protagonists don’t.) Technically, if you know that, you could be said to know how your story ends. The rest is just increasing the precision of the observation.

            • How true.

              I’m just one of the lucky people who can persuade it to surprise me in the outline rather than the first draft.

              I note that one advantage of not knowing where it will end up is that you are discovering it with the characters and therefore their attitudes toward the future, unknown to them, are your own. And easier to imagine.

        • Um… take one of the old ones out. Read it. See if it offers an answer. (I’ve had that happen.)

  3. There is one thing more fatal than “But what if there’s no one whom you want to win? No one you want to lose?”

    It’s, “Why can’t you all lose?”

    • LOL. Yes, been there. “I want them all dead, dead, dead.”

      • Then we dance on their graves and rejoice that the fictional universe has been morally improved.

        But — drat it — the author lets us down.


        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I’ve thought before that I wished that in WWII, that both the Reich and the USSR could have lost. That the NKVD could have liquidated the Nazis at the exact same time that the Gestapo liquidated the communists. This might not count, as I still like most of the peoples that they were murdering all willy nilly.

          As for rocks fall, when it cuts short the plot, and prevents the reader from getting the information that would allow the mystery to be solved, it can betray the trust of the reader. That sort of betrayal can cause a reader to lose interest in an author.

    • “You’re all a bunch of Yankee sumbitches, and I wish there was some way you both could lose.”

      • Ok, did you make this up, or is it a quote I should recognize? 🙂

        • It is a quote from a Lewis Grizzard book, but whether it is based on a real conversation or he just made it up, I don’t know.

          • Ah, that would be the “unexpected third party” ending. Or possibly the “Tea Party fights back” ending. Or “the mousy secretary was secretly working for both supervillains while setting them against each other to destroy them” ending.

            • Specific cases of the “Let’s you and him fight” plot. This has all kinds of possibilities.

              For instance, there is a current series of military science-fiction in which we find out very late in the series that one of the minor protagonists could have overcome the antagonist, which has been playing merry Hell with the rest of the protagonists, with minimal difficulty. However, to do this, they would have to reveal that they could do it, which would provide information to an as yet unseen antagonist which they have decided cannot be revealed. So in this variant the minor protagonist is using the rest of the protagonists to make the protagonists as a group look weaker than they actually are.

            • Such fun it would be!

              I look forward to read yours. 0:)

    • Which reminds me, I have to make a villain nastier. At the moment he’s just an oxygen thief. The evil needs to show more, so that the ending is more satisfying.

      (And I need to get these bits of pumpkin off my laptop. Short carver, tall pumpkin = much mess. It is a dragon/ bat-kitty jack-o-lantern.)

      • We used to carve the most complex pumpkins… but then we moved to a neighborhood where college kids delight in breaking them. This too shall pass.

      • I have that problem at the moment, too, with a bad fae ruler. I’m trying to show psychopathy without getting blatant. Not sure if it’s successful. Some of my attempts:

        * He has an enslaved sentient animal that he calls “it” – can’t be bothered to gender it, hasn’t really noticed it’s sentient (and doesn’t care)
        * He rules his patch but has no active counselors. No one can tell him “no” so he only has puppets and some downright evil henchmen.
        * He kills his own citizens if they seem to have powers that will become competitive with his.
        * He conducts Mengele-style breeding experiments and the results work the fields
        * He cold-bloodedly supervises torture interrogations

        The colder he gets, and more arrogant, the better I “like” him. The lack of passion (except ambition) seems to make it so much harder for the hero to have any hope facing him. No empathy at all.

        I am SO eager to write his death scene, but it’s two acts away and I want to do things in order… Maybe it’ll work out as a Xmas present on my schedule.

        • He sounds pretty evil to me.

          My villain starts by breaking up marriages and exiling people, then drives a secondary character mad and indirectly causes the destruction of a city, tries to profit from that destruction, abuses his relatives, attempts first to kidnap and then to assassinate someone, and murders one of the really good guys before getting his long overdue end. Truly a charming individual. But he is not breaking the laws, at least not until the kidnapping attempt. I was quite happy to see him dead, but I’m not sure the readers will be as joyful. I could be wrong.

        • None of that indicates psychopathy. If he tortures people for no REASON, he’s a psychopath. If he breeds humans to slime-lizards for no particular REASON, ditto. If he has a plan, and it doesn’t work out, he’s not crazy: he’s just very pragmatic. I like him already.

        • I read your entire post and most of the comments under the impression you were trying to convey, “psychopompsy”. It put a very interesting, if odd, spin on everything until one of the later comments mentioned the correct word again. Oops.

        • My standard for psychotic evil is Emperor Cartagia.
          “Humor is so subjective.”

    • Or, “These people deserve each other.”

  4. “This led to books where the couple finally got sort of together, and the minute it became clear she would say yes, the book… ended.”

    To me, this is where the story gets interesting. It’s where (to use your metaphor) the finally-united couple start having a post-coital cigarette, and the heroine discovers that her new bedmate is Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper). Now what?

    • If it’s a shift in the main question about their union, it’s a new story.

      • And both stories are entirely valid. Some stories end when the couple get together (see my earlier posted example of Maison Ikkoku). Others _begin_ when they do. (TV’s “Bewitched” as one of a great many examples). Or Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Shards of Honor” is the story of Aral and Cordelia getting together. “Barrayar” is the next story, what happens once they _are_ together. And then they become supporting characters for still further stories.

  5. As far as a climax moment, I’m kinda forced to go with multiple. There’s the big toe-curler, of course, but a couple of little aftershocks. Since I’ve got three main story arcs that converge before the climax, I need to make sure they all get “handled” so to speak. No cigarettes, though, not unless they can scavenge some from the ruins. My survivors have found that most cartons/packs have long since been water-damaged. They’re not pleased about the situation.

  6. To me, the mark of a poor writer is one who can only manage one climax per story. (I suppose one could say the same about a lover, but for us senior citizens… as my friend Patterson once expostulated to his mistress: “You want another orgasm? Do you know how bloody greedy that makes you sound?” One day I’ll write his story.)
    But to wrench the topic back to writing: a novel with only one climax is dead boring, To us novelists, such writing is known as a “short story” regardless of its length.
    Conversely, one of Tolkien’s greatest flaws, in my humble opinion, is that all his battles are cataclysmic: none stands out as especially greater/more important/climactic than any of the others.
    Even WWII was a poor story. After the Stalingrad/El Alamein climax, all the rest of the battles were inconsequential, simply a long epilogue.

    I need to quit now, to resume my academic writing of punishment as a recurring theme in Jane Eyre, and a study of Britain’s Road to the Welfare State. (Yes, if hot needles in the eyes were an option, I’d be applying them as we speak.)

    • > Even WWII was a poor story. After the Stalingrad/El Alamein climax, all the rest of the battles were inconsequential, simply a long epilogue.

      I don’t know. The Pacific Front ended with a bang, but some might decry it as a bit of deus ex machina.

      Then again, the whole thing was poorly written and is rife with genre side-slappers, as explained here

    • Midway had its points.

    • No, most of Tolkien’s battles are desperate and important to history, because he’s interested in writing the interesting bits of Middle Earth’s history.

      Cataclysmic, not so much. Don’t remember any cataclysms, really, except in the battles that involved Melkor and the Valar.

      • Cataclysmic is another variable-precision observation. One could opine that the outcome of the battle in which Sauron lost the Ring was a) cataclysmic to his side, and b) cataclysmic in its short term effects to, well, everybody and in its long term effects to the Elves.

        In the sense of “whole regions of the world destroyed utterly, continents rearranged like place settings on a dinner table, mythological characters smiting, smitten, and smote,” then yeah, you more or less need the Valar to do that much damage.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      It only looks that way because they’ve chopped up the material, and confused the natural flow of the arcs.

      The Nazi arc is largely inside of the Imperial Japan arc, which went from Earhart on Saipan (1937 according to what I’ve just read about the Campbell book) to Japan’s surrender. Both of these are nested inside, and partly driven by the Red arc, which the writers started in WWI, when they thought they’d painted themselves into a corner. Even the venerable Red arc was started after the beginning of the Democrat arc.

      Jefferson /Finis/ Davis is hardly a subtle name, if we are talking

      So WWII had Hitler for the Nazi arc, Stalin for the Red arc, FDR for the Democrat arc, and the Showa Tenno for the Imperial Japan arc. The Nazi arc ended first, because one of the Nazi gimmicks was sabotaging themselves in the long run for short term gain. They were not viable as long term villains, but the writer could cut short the Japan conflict in way that allowed them to be brought back later, if needed.

  7. Knock on wood, but I don’t seem to have to much trouble with endings. Now the middles– I go through virtual hell writing them sometimes.

    • Cyn, for me it’s not so much the middle, but the chapter or two right before the ending which always catch me. So:
      Beginning: no problem*
      Development: ditto
      Middle/1st crisis/climax, ditto
      Denouement, errrr starting to lose impetus
      Pre-climax 2: HUGE problem
      Climax/ending: no problem*

      *I mean, “no problem” as in, other than the usual writing issues.

      • Testing, testing…

      • Well – I didn’t see any problems in the first book I read of yours– so kudos Kim. I am sorry, but I am having problems reading Vienna Days.

        I see your problem– Denouement should be imho at the end unless your Denouement is different than my Denouement.

        Pre-climax– the hero discovers the villain’s location and gets there by any means (lol)
        Climax– the big battle
        Denouement– What happened to everyone– it can be large and extensive, or small–

        I learned a long time ago in writing that after the big climax, there needs to be some relaxation– a falling down of tension, hence the denouement. I use it for essays, memoirs, and even works in academic papers. It makes the last climax seem much larger in retrospect–

  8. Are there different rules for ending when writing a series? Do you think of the series as just one giant book and only worry about the last ending?

    In a recent book by Rick Riordan, “The Mark of Athena”, at the end of the book, two of the heroes have fallen off a ledge and are literally in free fall when the book ends. Some might argue that the book actually ended a chapter or two before and that this was really part of the next book, but still, it certainly seemed WAY uncool to me to stop in such an unsettled state. Or should I just be considering it one big book with some unknown number of installments?

    • Other than, “Don’t kill off characters or destroy places you’ll need later, absent resurrection and/or reconstruction technology,” I would say no, there aren’t. Lady-and-the-Tiger endings are not unique to serial fiction. I hate them, but I don’t hate them any less or more just because the story has a sequel.

      That being said, it’s certainly okay to leave some issues unresolved. Chekov’s Gun is a guideline, not some kind of natural law. This is especially true for issues regarding which the reader would be as pleased or more pleased to imagine a resolution in line with their individual preferences than to have the author resolve it definitively. I could give an example from one of my own books, but this is a family blog. I’ll just say that I left a fairly obvious did-he-or-didn’t-he wide open and nobody who’s ever read the book has ever complained about it, although if asked, they always have an opinion as to what happened.

      • With a series the author is demanding more of the reader and thus should (repeat: should) provide a commensurate payoff. Assuming a MMPB standard of $7.99 and 400 pages, a five book series entails forty bucks and 2K pages. That is a serious (pun intended) investment for a reader to make on trust, especially because the rhythms of a series typically require that the penultimate entry will reach a nadir, leaving the reader feeling doom is imminent. Add in the delay between books and the author is making a serious demand on the readers.

        Further, the nature and ultimate destination (emotional destination) of the series should be clear from book one; no starting out looking like Human Wave and ending in Grey Goo.

        Because there are delays between books the author should keep in mind that the readership will alter over time, becoming older and (one hopes) more sophisticated. This is especially true of YA fiction. The 12-year-old who moved into Hogwarts with the Philosopher’s Stone was 22 when asked to pursue the Deathly Hallows — a book which would have satisfied the initial reader would disappoint the final reader. And yet – the series is now complete and available; new readers can blast through them in fairly short order and the person absorbed in the first entry might well find the conclusion highly off-putting. Such is the challenge of the YA author.

        That, of course, applies to the serial as series; for proper series in which each entry is complete within itself (or complete as extension of prior books — e.g., Smith’s Lensmen or Asimov’s Foundation novels) the demands on readers are less and the requirement to reward their patience is lower. For such series all that is required is that each additional book succeed as a stand-alone and continue characters more or less intact (Archie Goodwin remains Archie Goodwin; he does not morph into Travis McGee unless we are given justification for the change.)

        • This is my problem with Sword and Blood and the reason I have to make sure that I can bring out the third RIGHT AFTER Blood Royale, because Blood Royale ends in a VERY downbeat.

    • There are different types of series. Some each book is complete, others are like one giant book. For me the later is harder to write.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Then you have things like Pern, where there was technically a Trilogy, but it turned into a giant story-writing world, spanning (I think) 2500 years or so.

    • This sort of question raises philosophical reflections in me. (Hey, aesthetics is a branch of philosophy.) Should parts of an work of art stand alone? Of course not — their point is to contribute to the whole, and a flaw in a part considered as a part may be an essential contribution.

      But what about series? Are we entitled to view each book as a stand alone? Hmm–

      I note that they did resolve major things they were planning on just before the free fall. The next book will take off in a different direction, with a different plan.

      • There are (roughly) three things, all different, that get called series. (1) same characters and/or worlds but a new problem that is solved in each book, each book couild stand alone. (2) Mega-novels. One huge problem, that is solved at the end of the last book. (3) Some publishers put out “series” that are assumed to all appeal to the group of readers, but are not related other than they come out in fairly quick sequence with a group identity.

        In TV terms think, the original Star Trek, the Battlestar Galactica remake, and The Twilight Zone.

        • There is often some bleed over between categories, especially the first two (e.g., Harry Potter has 7 — awright, maybe 6 — stand alone plots that accumulate into one over-arching story, or the Lensmen where each novel resolve a new threat from Boskone, culminating in defeat of the Eddorians.)

          Either a fourth category (or subcategory of #3) would be the shared world series, such as Martin’s Wild Cards or Lackey’s Heralds.

          • I think that the stand-alone plots were pretty much the first five books. By 6 and 7, they were the over-arcing plot.

            Given that she didn’t need them to stand on their own by that point, possibly wise.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            Another type might be serials which might vary as to how tightly connected the arcs are, and how self contained each chunk is even within a title.

            What about seemingly unrelated books, by the same author, which upon deep examination reveal connections and hints of being in the same universe?

            • You mean like Dipped, Stripped, and Dead referring to the diner and characters from Gentleman Takes a Chance even though everything else about the two books is completely different?

            • I’d call that a variation on “stories with same characters/worlds” type series. An author has created a “story universe” that is big enough for him to set apparently unconnected stories in that story universe. Andre Norton appears to have created one or more “story universes” in which she placed several different “series”. Some can be just an author using common terms in different story universes but others can be see as a common story universe.

              • Or Heinlein’s Future History … or L’Amour’s Sackett saga. I think H Beam Piper employed the same concept, and certainly Niven did; although he tied them increasingly together after Ringworld, originally the Known Space stories were only connected by a few trivial elements.

  9. I like the formula:
    1. Create characters readers will care about, whether it’s love or hate
    2. Put them in a situation it’s impossible for them to get out of.
    3. Get them out of it.

    However, being a pessimist, sometimes my endings turn out bad(for the characters) if I don’t make a conscious effort otherwise. Such things may flow easier, but I understand that most readers want at least a moderately happy ending.

    • Moderately happy could also mean satisfying– for instance in one of my books, I leave the woman who started the whole terrible story alone in a parking lot. The group hop into the car and just leave her there– It was great 😉

  10. In one duology I read, the authors blow up the world, and end the book 3 pages later! As a reader, I barely had time to find my pants! That bugs me. An earlier work had the same problem – 250 pages of action, adventure, characters, and BOOM, ended in 10 pages. I love their plots, their characterizations, but the pacing…gotta work on that!

    THE STAND, by one S.King, is rumored to have the same problem. “I’m contracted for 300 pages, I’m up to 278 now, I’m landing this plane, now!”

    Didn’t one R. Jordan sell his 11+3 book series as a trilogy? Now there’s a guy who just couldn’t find an ending!

    Speaking of ending, did I ever tell you about the ti{TRANSMISSION ENDED}

    • I quit R. Jordan because of that problem. He kept promising a climax and just wasn’t up for it. Gosh– I wanted to see the win against the evil guy– Finally I got fatigued and refused to read anymore until he finished it. So what does he do? He dies instead.

      • Fortunately, he knew he was dying and left enough notes for Brandon Sanderson to continue the series. The first Brandon Sanderson sequel was a good read and the next one will end the series.

  11. “Cigarette moment”. I like that.

    One of my favorite anime series was Maison Ikkoku ( After about 92 episodes of torment. The principles go round and round with each other, two steps forward, 1.999 back, and so on, they finally “get together” in episode 92. Then the next 4 episodes showcase the new relationship and tie up various minor loose ends from subplots. And when it is done, it is _done_. The everlovin’ end. No more to be said. This story is _over_.

    Compare with another one I liked but found rather unsatisfying in its ending, Marmalade Boy ( (Why, yes, I do have a liking for funny romance, emphasis on romance. Why do you ask?) The basic structure of this one is that the primary couple, after they get together, faces a series of every increasing “threats” to their relationship. They get past one only to face a bigger challenge later. And when the series ends, there’s no real “They’ve finally made it” in beating the latest (rather than “last” if you get the distinction) of a series of challenges. What’s almost embarrassing to watch is that the final denouement is a resolution for a _secondary_ character, not the primaries. Perhaps that was “realistic” in that there are no guarantees in real life and anything short of ones death leaves the possibility that things could go bad. Still, it didn’t make for satisfying fiction, not for me. So a good series that I enjoyed right up until the end and then went . . . bleh.

  12. Hope this isn’t a double post. Didn’t seem to “take” the first time.

    “Cigarette moment”. I like that.

    One of my favorite anime series was Maison Ikkoku ( After about 92 episodes of torment. The principles go round and round with each other, two steps forward, 1.999 back, and so on, they finally “get together” in episode 92. Then the next 4 episodes showcase the new relationship and tie up various minor loose ends from subplots. And when it is done, it is _done_. The everlovin’ end. No more to be said. This story is _over_.

    Compare with another one I liked but found rather unsatisfying in its ending, Marmalade Boy ( (Why, yes, I do have a liking for funny romance, emphasis on romance. Why do you ask?) The basic structure of this one is that the primary couple, after they get together, faces a series of every increasing “threats” to their relationship. They get past one only to face a bigger challenge later. And when the series ends, there’s no real “They’ve finally made it” in beating the latest (rather than “last” if you get the distinction) of a series of challenges. What’s almost embarrassing to watch is that the final denouement is a resolution for a _secondary_ character, not the primaries. Perhaps that was “realistic” in that there are no guarantees in real life and anything short of ones death leaves the possibility that things could go bad. Still, it didn’t make for satisfying fiction, not for me. So a good series that I enjoyed right up until the end and then went . . . bleh.

  13. I start from the assumption that the entire plot is in the character. So when I name a character their die is cast– I am just discovering the story behind the name (character, etc). Plus I get full-blown characters too. (hey, hey, get out of mind and let me think in peace. Hey)

    • Tangent: Characters in my books with “Western” names are named either at random or as some sort of in-joke pop-culture reference. Characters named in languages I don’t speak always have names which refer to their major characteristic/reason for being in the book, on the theory that if I have to look it up, I might as well make it symbolic. For instance, the love interest in my last book has a name which translates as “battle messenger” in her native tongue. She has something to tell the protagonist which is key to understanding a fight between deities which he’s become involved with by accident.

  14. Endings are wonderful things! That’s when you can shake out your hands and say, “it’s done!”. Sometimes, however, endings just don’t ‘fit’. Endings are also the beginning of the next stage — editing the monster you’ve just created. This is the time when I go through my story from beginning to end, without stopping, to make sure I’ve got all the various plot strings coming together by the time I write the last word. Sometimes, that’s more difficult than the writing. I find I sometimes forget one or two plots, and I’ve got to go back and re-weave them into the story before I end it.

    Speaking of endings, I have now finished the rough draft of the story I began based on one of Sarah’s blog posts (and the totally unrestrained chatter that it triggered). As promised, the people that contributed to that conversation (the blog post was the one about Kate Paulk’s novel ConSensual becoming available, which had very little to do with the conversation that ensued). If you were a part of that conversation, I’ll be glad to email you a MS Word copy of the rough draft. Just email me at my gmail address.

    Sarah, I’ll have some ideas for blog posts tomorrow. The evening just wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be.

  15. Why do I think all those parenthetical comments telling a prospective snark-master to shut up were originally all punctuated with “, CF”? 🙂

  16. I think you’re dead on Sarah… and it’s why I didn’t schlep my book to Baen — it has an ending, but “yay we win!” catharsis it ain’t. Not that it’s pretentious or pretending to be valuable (it’s a yarn), but it’s a yarn that ends on an ambiguous point. Some of the folks who read it liked that a lot, but several others were left with “what, wait, what about…..”

    problem, there.

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