Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: the Afterglow

Those of you who expressed sympathy over the Roomba poopocalyspe will no doubt be pleased to know that it has not been repeated. Unfortunately, this is because the thing is now scheduled to run in the evening, and we’re making sure to check and remove feline indiscretions prior to the scheduled runs. I fear there will be a litterbox in the living room if this continues. We really want to keep the kitty potty downstairs, but when one of the little darlings insists that his potty is upstairs dammit, it’s kind of difficult to argue. Especially when he does it while we’re at work.

Anyway, to move from that unpleasant topic to a much kinder one, this week’s installment of the reposted Extreme Pantser’s Guide is all about the wrap-up of a book. Otherwise known as the afterglow.

The Pantser Body of Knowledge: Basking in the afterglow

The wrap up phase of the book is where a lot of pantsers fall into the trap of thinking that the Big Bad is dead or defeated, the main problem has been resolved, so there’s nothing more to do, right?

Well, no. It doesn’t really work that way. Readers like to see the character they’ve followed through all manner of mayhem actually have a bit of a chance to enjoy the victory. It isn’t quite “and they all lived happily ever after” – although romances tend to demand that someone gets a happily ever after (known as HEA) – but it’s got a lot of similarity to it.

There are a few things to consider with the wrap up: how long it should be, what it needs to have in it, and of course, precisely where you end the thing. My view, for what it’s worth, is that in a flash piece there isn’t any, or at most a line or two. A short story doesn’t need more than a scene. A novel, you’re looking at one to several chapters, depending.

The goal should be to if not tie up all those loose threads you left lying around while you were writing the thing, then to at least offer a suggestion that they will be tied up at some unspecified time in the future. Partial resolutions are okay, as long as they provide a valid partial resolution (I should note that this doesn’t apply to mystery, where readers expect the way the lead solved the crime to be explained in the wrap up; to horror, where you’re expected to finish with a general situation best described as “oh shiiiiiit”; or to anything with a tragic ending, where lingering too long just starts to feel like poking around in an open sore – there it’s better to build to the tragedy and keep the wrap-up to some flavor of the impact on the rest and unless you’re writing literature, how the survivors will be inspired by it to move on). It’s worth pointing out that if you can’t find a valid resolution point you haven’t actually finished the bloody book.

I should probably say that what makes a valid resolution point varies from book to book, but it should at minimum resolve one of the major conflict areas of that specific piece. Obviously if it’s part of a series there’s a larger conflict that still unresolved, but if you’re writing a series you still need to have at least one smaller conflict driving each one, preferably more. The per-book conflicts are the ones you resolve.

For extreme pantsers, this tends to be something that just happens. I don’t consciously decide what the conflicts are. They’re just… there, courtesy a subconscious that operates on a ‘need to know’ basis where I don’t need to know. I just need to trust in the pants and keep writing. Weirdly, it usually works out reasonably well.

So, into a little more detail, once again using Impaler as the example. Impaler is the first book in a series, with two overaching conflicts: the clash of Islam and Christianity, and Vlad’s quest for his own humanity. Neither of these have been resolved – or even, to some extent, fully realized as the core conflicts – by the end of Impaler. The smaller conflicts – Vlad’s uncertain relationship with his oldest son Mihnea, his campaign to reclaim Constantinople as a means of splitting the Ottoman Empire in two and providing him with the resources he needs to be able to eliminate Mehmed II as a threat – have been resolved. Mehmed remains a threat, but Vlad has gained himself some much-needed breathing space and dealt a massive psychological blow to his enemy.

In addition, Vlad has recognized one of the two overarching conflicts and his role in it. He’s realized that he’s effectively the only person in his world who is both willing and either brave enough or insane enough to take on the ever-expanding Islamic empires (quite possibly this is “brave enough and insane enough”).

This effectively sets the stage for the second book (which will probably be titled Kaziklu Bey, and will cover Vlad’s campaign against Mehmed) and the third (tentatively Son of the Dragon, where Vlad aims to recapture Jerusalem for Christianity). There may be more. But Impaler finishes at a point where it could just as easily be a standalone novel – which is the goal of the wrap up.

Since we pantsers tend to be rather at the mercy of our subconscious, it really does help to finish in a way that won’t have readers threatening life and limb if you don’t write the next one now.

A memorable last line helps, although failing memorable, the last line should effectively wrap up the piece. Hamilton’s early books have short – but satisfying – wrap ups with killer last lines. Pratchett tends to shift relatively seamlessly from the climactic sequence to the wrap up, and finish with something that brings in the emotional kick of the book. I’m still pretty crude on this and tend to either use a sledge to hammer in a push pin, or end with something that’s kind of a nonentity, but that’s something that improves with practice. Lots of practice.

So that’s the wrap up. Like this post, fairly fluffy by comparison, but – hopefully – satisfying. Probably the main thing for pantsers to remember is that we usually need one, and to trust our bloody subconscious when it’s supplying the bloody thing. Write it first, fix it later. No matter how good a writer – or how extreme a pantser – you can’t fix something you haven’t actually written.

23 thoughts on “Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: the Afterglow

  1. Or you could just say “If they haven’t died,. they live to this day” and modern audiences will want you sauteed.

  2. Yep… pretty much every time I write the End, then a cap scene, then a final scene, and only then does it suddenly feel “finished” (rather than “done for”). And the same happens with beginnings (to be fair, I usually start in the middle)… I keep backing up until I find where it starts.

    Someday I should put together a version in the order stuff was written. Instant time travel novel. 😀

    1. Probably win you a Hugo!

      Note to web guru: still can’t read comments in normal size font. If I click the ‘mobile friendly’ pop-up, there are no comments! “Note” to “mobile” is the length of the line above.

      I did figure out how to get the android to not think I am my kids’ piano teacher on the name/email line, but either the phone or the website won’t save it anymore. Still saves on ATH, though. Technology delanda est!

  3. Hmm, hadn’t realized last lines were important. Had realized that endings were important and have been working to good solid plan. Have just drafted the following closing statements. Am not sure who is saying them yet.

    “I think it holding it here may have been a mistake.”

    “All the attendees are still alive, so it is an improvement over last year’s.”

    “The plan wasn’t fundamentally evil and criminal this year, and it still was a mess.”

    “None of the presenters did anything that they deserved to be arrested for that we’ve found yet. We had some ground breaking work that wasn’t obviously criminal. No one brought any particularly hazardous materials, and the mildly hazardous materials were handled safely and not released. The surrounding events were unfortunate.”

    “Next year’s will be better. Next year’s, in Jerusalem.”

    1. One piece of advice I heard for joke telling is to have the most critical word at the end of the punchline. In other words, “That’s no woman, that’s my wife!” is more effective than “That’s my wife, not a woman!” A similar thing works for ending sentences—not that you have to have the most critical word at the end, but consider your information and try to design your sentence (and paragraph) so the wording is the most effective. It doesn’t have to be a punchline, but it should be an effective close. (I actually ended one with a literal close—closing the window shutters. A means of indicating “and now the characters have told their tale, and what they do from now on is their own concern.”)

  4. Wrapping up for me seems to mostly involve characters getting back to what they were doing before they were so rudely interrupted by the world-threatening crisis du jour. Making moomoo face at each other, for the most part. That’s all they want to do. ~:(

    But it does present an opportunity for me to inject an uh-oh! moment to foreshadow the next thing that’s going to come and disrupt their playtime. They’ll ignore it as hard as they can, of course, but eventually they will roll their eyes like a bunch of teenagers, get up and take out the garbage.

    I’m stuck right now at a part about 2/3rds of the way though. They’re supposed to go confront the bad guy, and I can’t seem to get them to do it. They really don’t want to go. Somebody could die, right?

    My evile plan is to switch point of view to the bad guy, and see if I can make that work. I also have to figure out what’s going to be the thing that kicks his ass. I haven’t spent enough time with him to understand what his deal is. (Apart from being a supercilious jackass, anyway. That was decided at the outset. He thinks humans are dumb like broccoli.)

    How do mere humans scare a snotty alien artificial intelligence so bad he runs away screaming and never comes back? I don’t know, dammit! I’m sure I’ll think of something, but meanwhile my characters are all “I’m not going over there, author-boy. Screw your story-line.”

    Now I’m going to scream like Kirk: “PAAAAAAAAAAANTS!!!!!!”

    1. Phantom: Have your good guys point the Evil Villainous AI to some terrifying Youtube channel (or equivalent) and say “This is what humans are like. ALL THE TIME!” I mean, how likely is it that an alien AI will be able to parse HuffPo op-ed’s for meaningful content?

      More likely to generate ?Out of Cheese error. Redo from start?

      1. Main-stream media is part of the reason Bad Guy alien thinks humans are dumb like broccoli. I could inject him laughing out loud at HuffPoo, but that sort of unsubtle flounder upside the head is what SJWs do. I leave that stuff to them.

        Actually I have a newly repaired drug-addict/part time hooker and her abusive drug cooker/pimp “boyfriend” cued up. They are going to introduce Snidely Whiplash to the human costs of his actions. Then Alice Haddison is going to kick his ass. I hope. She’s got a wicked temper on her, she will probably lose it at some point.

        But generating a situation where those two idiots won’t chicken out is testing my ingenuity. They’re not noble heroes, right? What’s in it for pimp and hooker? There are noble heroes with them, but getting the thing to roll forward on its own is hard.

        I think evil alien may have to precipitate something himself. I don’t like talking to the bad guys, but I guess I’ll have to.

        Frickin’ pants. 😡

        1. Some people do drugs for escape but some do drugs for the high. Your repaired drug addict might miss the high and wonder if taking on an alien life form would reproduce some of the excitement that is now missing in her life?????

          Just a thought.

          1. That is a notion I hadn’t considered. Her main motivation previously was hate and spite. Maybe a return to form?

        2. They have a kid?

          What would they rather die than lose? How can evil alien threaten that thing?

          1. I could never do that to a kid, make those two lowlife into parents. Big problem with writing for me, I have to live with these guys. They’re in here with me. Somewhat limits what can happen to them.

            What would they rather die than lose? That is a very interesting question. I’ll think about that.

        3. They think he’s competition and can safely off him? They are too stoned to realize they can’t handle the danger he poses?

    1. Add six bucks for shipping! No such thing as free at this low, low price…

      Meh. I see these pop up every so often on various books. If I ever see one for mine, I’m tempted to put up a counter-ad for $100 less – special edition, signed, and with a lock of my hair included. (Actually, that last is getting rare enough it might actually have value some day…)

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