And In Conclusion: Finishing a Novel

I’m writing the final pages of No River Too Wide.  If my outline is correct (and it often isn’t at this stage) I have a dozen or so scenes to work into this final portion of the book to tie up my multiple plot lines. Multiple-Plot-Lines-R-Us, I’m afraid. Always and forever, amen.

In a conversation with Diane Chamberlain here, I talked a little about the way I outline a story. This is a hotly disputed subject among writers which is, in reality, yawn-worthy. You do the plotting up front, or you do it as you go, or you do a little of both. There is no virtue attached. You won’t get a star in your crown, or a publishing contract, or a pat on the back from your readers based on the way you work. If you keep plugging you will get a book, and if you’re careful and tie up loose ends the book will make sense.

Which is a very good thing.

The ritual tying of the loose ends isn’t as easy as it sounds. A novelist has to remember every single plot thread, significant character growth, internal reminiscence and make sure it’s been satisfactorily dealt with by the end of the book. Hopefully we’ve tied up some of these threads along the way so that we don’t have to resort to a long-winded catch-up at the end.

Here are some of the things I always keep in mind as I approach the final goal post.

  • Who was a character at the beginning and who is he or she at the end? Did she grow in ways the reader will accept because of events in the story, or did she leapfrog through unknown ponds and forests to become a different person? I call this the “huh?” factor.
  • What is the story arc? Does it build toward conclusion with little rest stops along the way? Does it go splat about halfway and never recover? Does it refuse to build until the final exciting chapters which nobody will ever read because everybody fell asleep in chapter six at which time the book slipped to the floor beside their rocking chairs and was never picked up again?
  • Is there enough description and sharpening of the senses to make the story come alive? Is there so much description that the story itself was buried under paragraphs filled with glowing adjectives and skillfully wrought metaphors?
  • Was something wonderful introduced and given such short shrift that it needs to be removed and saved for another novel?
  • Was something boring introduced and given such attention that it needs to be removed and tossed into the nearest body of water?

Just some of the things, as I said, that I look for as I near the end of my story. Anything that slipped by and shouldn’t have will, hopefully, be caught during edits and revisions, mine and my editor’s.

One thing is certain. The end of a book is not the place to let down. It’s not the time to make a move, either. So while I would usually be heading south about now, instead I’m watching the leaves turn and planting my feet in New York until No River Too Wide is completed. This is the time to focus, to pay attention to every word, to skip back and forth between what has already been written and what needs to be. It’s an exciting time, but a crucial one.

I sure do love my job.

Remember, if you comment on any blog between now and November 1st (up to three times) you’ll be entered in the giveaway for one of three packs of the five Emilie Richards books that came out in 2013. Details here.


  1. Joni E on October 8, 2013 at 9:19 am

    I used to like my job !!! I think it’s time for a change . I envy your writing skills !! I write short sweet & to the point !!!

  2. Patti on October 8, 2013 at 9:20 am

    I love these books so I am looking forward to No River Too Wide. I hope we learn more about Analiese. She is my favorite character.

  3. Dee W on October 8, 2013 at 11:47 am

    And those of us who read your novels appreciate that attention to detail. Florida will still be there when you’re done, but a lost story line drives us nuts! And some of us don’t have far to go!

  4. Evelyn Ferguson on October 8, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Your books always have wonderful endings. Finished a book last night which left me wondering what happened to each character. There was no closure or mention of a sequel.

    • Emilie Richards on October 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      That’s very good to hear since I’m writing an ending and wondering, as I write, what I got myself into. (I always wonder that until revisions are complete.)

  5. Daisy Christopherson on October 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I am looking forward to the next book in the Godesses Anonymous just because I have enjoyed the other two books and can’t wait for anothe one to come out. You are one of my favorite authors. Thanks.

  6. Joanna Campbell Slan on October 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Emilie, your list is incredibly helpful. I’ll keep it at hand.

    I also ask myself if the stakes are high enough, and how could I make them higher? Do all my secondary characters stand tall? (I think of myself as an orchestra conductor with a baton in hand, directing all the voices.) Is there a sense of satisfaction in the ending? Will the readers say, “Ah! Good for her!” And will I conclude with enough of a hook that they’ll come back for more in my next book?

    • Emilie Richards on October 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      All excellent points to consider. Thanks for the additions.

  7. Marti on October 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    sometimes I want there to be a soft ending as I get so involved with a character that I don’t want a story to end and want a 2nd book to follow and even a third. Have a special fondness for trilogies…

  8. Colleen Archer on October 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    I have always loved the complexities of your stories, but never considered the details of bringing them to a satisfying conclusion. Thank you for always leaving me waiting for your next book to be published! I especially enjoyed the Shenandoah Album series.

  9. Pat Marinelli on October 8, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Great post! And not just for novels. I’m a short story writer but I’m going to save this to help with my endings.

  10. judy wirzberger on October 8, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Thoughtful insight for a writer to keep in mind while working on a novel.

  11. clynsg on October 13, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I like what you said about tying up loose ends and remembering what has come before. I often find that authors rename characters in subsequent chapters (or books, if it is a connected series), change happenings completely, etc. Since I frequently read books in sequence and closely together in time, these can pop out at me. Often wonder if it is just sloppy editing, or what.

    • Emilie Richards on October 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      For my series I always keep a file of names, but it’s easy to forget to use it for minor, walk-on characters. I once had a copy editor point out that I had two different characters named Sarah in a book she was editing. I couldn’t believe it, but she was right. One in the historical part, one in the contemporary part. Which is just another good reason to have an editor. For my mysteries the same copy-editor did them all and kept her own list of names, traits, etc. This was a great help, and I am always surprised more publishers don’t see the need for it.

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