‘We don’t like men of your fiber, Freer.’
“Yer don’t like my clothes? What wrong with ’em?”
“Actually, I just don’t like you.”
Dialogue writes itself, sometimes. Especially when the writer knows the characters. This of course can play havoc with your planned plot line. I have an irritating character doing precisely this to me right now. This is particularly annoying because I am reaching the point of the book where all the threads start to come together. The last thing I need is a few more threads. It seems, however, that the book does.
So: there we go. Another errant thread, needing to be chased up and tied down (they are rather like kangaroos). Maybe it is just a feature of my writing style, but I think I can define my stories as beginning with maybe two threads, which simply expand into more and more fibers – which I then spend the last 2/3 of the book weaving together, tying a few off along the way, and back-threading others, until the end where, being me I like them all tied off.
Oh what of the sequels? I think I only ever wrote one book with the absolute intent of a sequel – DRAGON’S RING — which probably would have survived without one. But for me anyway, people always seem to want to know just what happened next, or what happened to those characters – despite this story being wrapped up. I’m damned if I’ll leave threads hanging for a sequel. I don’t know. Am I wrong? you tell me. I would feel cheated if I read a book that left me part way without an adequate end, at least to that part. And, of course, being the kind of guy I am, I like all the threads to tie up…
But there are often a lot of them, which leaves my head feeling very crowded at times. I tend to note each one down at the live end:
‘Need to give away that Arthur organized for Aunt.‘
‘Round-tripping letter, add mentions‘
‘If of course we were to murdered in the breakfast parlor, I might not have a poker to hand. I might be forced to take after them with a fish.’
Which, if I suddenly dropped dead, and my sons decided to finish the book would possibly help, but more likely confuse.
So: what process do you use? Because I really need to refine mine. Maybe get some new fibers, so they like me.
Eh. Little bit of everything. There’s a big plot thread that covers the big stuff. What needs to happen to trigger Act II, III, and so on. There’s the little technical details that keep me from forgetting what’s supposed to be impossible. That’s its own thing, sort of off to the side, unloved but necessary. There’s the short character profiles, more to remind me what the character is really like in the beginning. There’s the chapter summaries, now those are the meat and potatoes. The one I am banging away at now is written in first person, so the summaries are stripped down storytelling that give me the bones of the chapter. It’s episodic, so each chapter needs enough bones to it to stand up on its own, more or less. Those may end up being about half the length of a full chapter in some cases, or more. Then write the chapter. Sit on it for a bit. Then strip out all the bad stuff that worked its way in, much as one can, and try and root out the typos.
It’s probably a lot more work than is worth it to most people, but it works for me, more or less.
Some of those come out in the outline. Others have to be dealt with in the draft.
Thaaaaaanks Dave. Now I have “Tie me kangaroo down, sport” running through my head.
Taaaake me Wallaby back, Jack….
I tend to start with an idea, or in the case of a series, I dangling thread or overarching story thread that needs to be tied off. So where does that lead? That’s the main plot idea. Then come the “OK, how do I get there,” and the little details that build up the story, characters, and world.
I try to identify the major problem(s) of the book and make sure those are dealt with.
The others may be (or become) important in another book.
Those not-really-important but they dangle too obviously? I’ve started throwing in bonus scenes, little vignettes that tie them off.
For example I had a nasty little character who was important to one bit, then dropped. Beta readers were disappointed I hadn’t killed him. Bonus scene: Pack of small carnivorous dinosaurs deciding to have him for dinner.
Look, I’m entirely the wrong person to comment on this, as my yarns have tended to become cat-bedeviled skeins. (The cat can sometimes still be heard faintly yowling from inside the writhing clump.)
That said, my opinion:
Not all threads need to be tied up, much less in a pretty little bow.
The climax and denouement don’t have to tie up all the threads, just the relevant ones.
Harold faced down his boss to gain his well-deserved promotion, and the promised financial stability allows him to propose to his love interest. That doesn’t mean all his problems are solved by the resolution, and some may have gotten worse because of it. Aunt Mildred-of-the-bunions is still coming to visit, and now she insists on meeting the fiancé!
I will say that I think deliberately leaving things hanging for a sequel is a bad idea —because sequel hooks will show up whether you want them to or not. The last thing you need to do is deliberately set out more of them. What, are you TRYING to convince your muse to drive you crazy?
Of course, exactly what constitutes a tied-up thread may be in the eye of the beholder. The creator of Babylon 5 was rather notorious for that: “I DID tie up the thread of ‘what happened to Sinclair during the Battle of the Line’: he was captured, tortured for information, and then released. Oh, now you want to know WHY he was captured, tortured for information and then released? Well, you didn’t ask that…”
I had something similar in my last book. As far as I was concerned, the heroine had completed the current phase of her life and was moving on to something new. Seemed like a perfect place to wrap things up. And yet all I heard from every single one of my beta readers was, “When are you going to tell us about the NEXT phase of Emma’s life…”
Read a Fantasy Series years ago and in the last book the Main Character & Only POV Character was badly hurt.
We see her “fading to black” while hearing her friend/lover casting spells in an attempt to save her.
The author never showed us that she was dead so a few of the readers (including me) wondered if she had survived.
I was at a book signing of the author and as far as he was concerned, his character had died.
Later saw a short story of his that starts in the Realm of the Dead and Death sends her back to the Land of the Living. 😉
There was a web comic I read ages ago: Hymns of the Apostate (look for The Fortuna Saga), one of the characters had severe PTSD and was basically looking to die through the entire story.
Finally get through the major events, and we’re going through the coda, and her section ends with her sick of all the fighting, unarmed and with someone who has a long grudge against her probably fixing to kill her. (Their dialog is “Nothing will bring her back.” “I don’t care.”)
And then it follows her thoughts (“I hate what I’ve done, I hate what I’ve become, but I want to live”) and fades to black. You have no idea what happened with them. He could have killed her. He could have decided it wasn’t worth it and walked away. She could have decided she wasn’t just going to go quietly into the night. Anything could have happened, and you have no idea which. It just stopped right there.
And its not even a cliffhanger; the day is already saved, you don’t know what happened to the characters after all the dust settled. And you aren’t even going to get to find out in the history books, because most of them don’t want to be remembered either.
It was an incredibly memorable exit for a character, and really fit them.