Friday, November 22, 2013

# Guest Blog # NaNoWriMo

How to End Your Novel

Part of a special month-long event featuring writing tips and NaNoWriMo strategies from guest writers and fellow NaNo participants.

How to End Your Novel
by Nathalie Andrews

As I considered how best to tackle the topic of “how to end a novel” I realized that each of our novelling experiences was unique and, as has become something of a mantra for me, there are no hard and fast rules in writing. Sure, there is plenty of advice floating around the net, but the only absolute is that if you have produced something worth reading, you’ve done good, kid! And with that in mind, I decided to approach this question not by telling you how you must end your novel, but by asking: who are you? Where are you? And where is your happy ending? I am, after all, something of a story teller…
Once upon a time…
There was an underdog.
They had planned and slogged and tried and hoped; they had set themselves a deadline (I’ve heard that, around this time of year, it’s often 30th November), but, as the dreaded date grew closer, they gazed down at their word-count and felt themselves overwhelmed by despair. It was pitiful. They were never going to be able to complete their masterpiece.
And then they recalled that they were a writer and, if there’s one thing that we writers know it’s that the hero in the story ALWAYS triumphs against the odds. Indeed, we’d fail in our mission if we made it easy for him. So of course the word count is low! And of course the time is tight! And it’s all but impossible, but still the underdog will prevail. Because that’s how stories work!
How, after all, could we stack the odds against our heroes and expect them to win through in the final chapters, yet not hold ourselves accountable to do the same. And so it is that the underdog, in their own dedication to the art of storytelling, has decided to live out those adrenaline-filled final chapters in the last weeks before their deadline by making it so hard for themselves that it is they who must now become the hero, call upon powers and strengths they never knew they had, and finish their novel.
There will follow a training montage with images of a newly-organized timetable drawn in bright colours, an array of caffeinated beverages arriving on an ancient writing desk, the author running their fingers through their hair as they gaze out at the pre-dawn light, ink covered fingers and papers screwed up and thrown into a waste basket (though who writes on paper these days?) Accompanied by rousing, melodramatic music.
The upshot is, the novelist finishes, and triumphs. The end.
Once upon a time…
There was an artist.
In their mind, this artist has a masterpiece. It has inspired them through the tough times; it has been their light shining in the dark. But, as the deadline approaches for them to finish they realize that, although they have more than 50,000 words, they are not going to have reached that mystical thing called ‘the end.’
But no fear, they think, they can carry on, can’t they?
Well, this story has the potential for a tragic ending and is inspired by one of my attempts at Nano, when I won the challenge, and then thought I’d take a break – “just a day.” I said that, just a day, and then I would carry on. I never did. So it is a warning I now give. I’ve never been able to ‘complete’ a novel in 50,000 words. I have plenty of novel-shaped things that take up pages and files space, but, personally, I need at least 90,000 words to reach the end.
The writing-every-day mentality is not to be taken lightly. Nor is it something you can dive back into very easily so my advice to nano-ers who have 50k words of a novel they want to complete is: don’t stop.
You may write less. I give you permission to do so. But you do not stop.
And so, hopefully, the situation turns round. The artist resolves themselves to carry on to the end and thus is the masterpiece at last complete. The end.
Once upon a time…
There was a god.
Not the omnipotent, omniscient kind. Just the sort that creates worlds and now and again tortures their creations.
This god has many creations and has journeyed with them, aided them, challenged and protected them. (Also, killed them, maimed them and generally abused them). But now this god’s creations are spread out across their world. Each creation has developed in its own way. Completely unbeknownst to their creator, they have developed personalities, free will, desires and goals (even the ones who were only meant to be bit parts). And now the god must leave their world, but how will he or she do so and still leave them with their just deserves.
If your characters have not developed their own free wills perhaps you have avoided this pitfall, but mine have and do. I have various tricks to drag them back onto my plotted course, but giving them all a satisfying ending is a challenge.
The trick is to realize that, if readers have a vested interest in a character’s fate then you absolutely must let them know what happened to them, but it is more than that. Whatever happens to them must give the character closure.
Closure is not about a happy ending, but it is about a satisfying ending. That means that if a character is set a challenge, or posed a question, the outcome must be made clear – whether they succeed or fail and how they respond to that, and / or how the question is answered. The answer might even be “there is no answer,” but if you have opened one of these doors then you need the character to step through and close it behind them.
The trouble is, at the end of the story, sometimes you find your characters are scattered, all with different objectives. Going through and listing the fate of each may not work structurally. Now is the time to return to your story’s theme. The theme is what binds the story together, be it true love or sacrifice or the importance of a promise. The theme is the centre around which your characters, scenes and plot bunnies orbit. (Oh yes, the bunnies orbit!) At the end of the story it needs to contract like a black hole, pulling everything else towards it. If you know each character’s relation to the theme, you will know how to relate their own individual ending to the story as a whole.
And that is how they all live (or die) happily ever after.
Once upon a time…
There was a story.
And then the story was over.
Feels strange, doesn’t it. 50,000 words or more and it’s done. Consider that for a moment. Let’s say each of those words had just 5 letters and a space following. That’s around 300,000 shapes and spaces that YOU have put in order, and out of these random lines and shapes and the distances between them, you have created places and people, hopes and desires, victories, tragedies and triumphs.
Then silence.
First of all, if you consider it in these terms, it is magic, pure and simple. It is also sad. Painfully sad. And the chances are that, if you’ve ridden the emotional whirlwind with your characters, particularly through the last few chapters in which their fates have been decided, you’re going to feel a little drained. It’s like waking up from a dream and realizing none of it was real. Well, it’s exactly like that.
Make sure you have ways to fill your time. Don’t obsess over the story you’ve just written. It is far too easy to start making changes just in order to spend more time in that world, so hold off for a time and allow yourself to feel nostalgic, but also allow yourself to believe that it is over. There may be sequels, but they will not be this story so you’ll need a little time to mourn.
Distract yourself with games, movies, tv, and books. Why? Because you need new inspiration – ‘new’ being the operative word. You have to separate yourself off from the passions that drove your first story, not out of self-denial, but because when you write again, and you will write again, it has to be fresh. You cannot rehash old characters and old ideas merely because you love them, so you need to find other things that will lead you forward and, in time, new dreams and new worlds will emerge.
And, here’s the fun bit. You know those 300,000 shapes and spaces between? (It was over half a million shapes and spaces in my first novel). You need to edit them. Do you know what that means? It means you have to check that EVERY SINGLE one of them is exactly where it is meant to be.
If you were handed 300,000 tiny objects and told to put them in exactly the right order, well, that would be a little daunting, wouldn’t it? Well, it isn’t quite like that. No, it is far worse. You’ve been handed 300,000 tiny objects and have been told that they are NEARLY in the right order, so could you please check through. That is editing.
Good luck!

About the Author

Nathalie Andrews is the author of  The Thief of Red Mountain, a historical romance set in late Edo Period Japan. 
Nathalie has traveled throughout the world, often with little more than a tent, a backpack and a decent knowledge of the local beer. She had always hoped to grow up and be a great adventurer before discovering that adventuring doesn't pay the bills and people don't actually grow up.
Nathalie trained for over ten years in Egyptology and has presented and published academic papers on language and religion in Ancient Egypt. She works as an executive assistant, and is founder of Girl and Cat Publishing. She currently lives in London with her cat, Nefertari and a house full of shiny and colourful things.

Twitter: @rukia9chiki     #thethiefofredmountain

By Nathalie Andrews:

The Thief of Red Mountain
To buy: 
Cover design and illustration by Alex J Garcia -

Would you sacrifice your past to change your fate?

Japan, 1859, and the decline of the samurai era.

Akayama Arata and his young wife Mei become hostages following a raid by shogunate soldiers on their mountain estate. The soldiers' target was Arata's brother, the enigmatic lord of the Red Mountain, but he has fled and the ornate house now stands empty. Arata and Mei need to find a way to escape or else lure their lord back and betray him.

Yet Arata's injuries have left him with no memory of his former life and he is forced to rely on Mei to understand who he once was and the role he played in his clan's downfall.

The strange and beautiful Mei has her own secrets though, and their time together is running out. As Arata endeavours to piece together events, he finds himself borne deeper into the family's tangled web of lies, betrayal and revenge.

This new addition to the samurai genre is a fast-paced romantic thriller that builds to a gripping conclusion. 

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