After years of saying I was going to do it, I finally got up the courage to finish a book.  I gathered up my strength and crawled under the bed and I slayed that monster.   It wasn’t perfect, but I loved it, and it never occurred to me that I should not query agents.  I mean, I had a book, right?

I wasn’t a complete rookie.  I had purchased three separate critiques in an online auction.  Two critiques of the first 30 pages and one of the first 50 pages, from a published author, an agent and an editor, respectively.  I took the constructive criticism to heart.  I workshopped the first 30 pages at a conference.
I was ready.
At least my first 30 pages were. 
Like most querying writers, I had a “dream” agent.  Dreamie had built an amazing list of successful authors and really seemed to know publishing.  Dreamie requested my partial.  Then my full.  I waited anxiously, daring to hope that maybe, just maybe, this was going to happen.  It didn’t.
Dreamie read the whole book and considered it seriously, but it just wasn’t ready.  I got some great constructive feedback, but the thing that sticks out in my mind the most, is the  comment (and I’m paraphrasing) that “I had hoped that Austin would play a bigger role in the climax.” 

Austin is a main character in the story. And he was nowhere near the climactic scenes.  Oops.  My ending didn’t live up to the promise of the story.  Dreamie did say that other agents might feel differently, so after nursing my crushed soul for about five minutes, I got over it and sent out a new batch of queries, thinking maybe my ending would still be okay.  It wasn't.
Fortunately, from that batch came an offer from a fabulous agent who was willing to take on SILVER even though it required a lot of work (read: overhaul).  In our initial discussion, she said that she really enjoyed the first half of the novel, but that she thought the entire second half needed to be replotted and rewritten.  And she was right.
And so began my education on endings.

Here’s where the back half of my story fell apart:

1.       Too many Plot Twists:  There were too many revelations, coming rapid fire.  They overcomplicated the story and the world, got confusing, and, most importantly, distracted from the primary conflict with the main characters. 

2.       Not Enough Focus on the Main Storyline:  This is the other side of problem number one.  The story went off in so many directions, that the main conflict got lost in the shuffle.  The payoff was lost in all the subplots, and the main character arc was murky at best.

3.       It Didn’t Fulfill the Promise of the Hook:  The end can’t stray too far from the promise of t Act I and the build up of Act II.  It’s fine to have twists, but it should still feel like the same story.  After investing hours in a story, readers deserve to have the primary conflict confronted and if not resolved, at least come out of it changed somehow.

4.       Major Characters Had No Role in the Climax:  Remember Dreamie’s disappointment that a key character had little to no role in the final outcome?  Yeah, that was still a problem. 

5.       Every Character Did Not Need a Full Character Arc:  Too many minor characters with their own storylines and character arcs are not only confusing, they steal page time from the main stories and themes, and rob the main characters of strong internal and external arcs. 

6.       Too Many Questions Answered at the End:  Tying up twenty plot threads at once is a tall order.  It leads to lots of boring exposition and many chapters of resolution.  Turns out, I didn’t need 20 plot threads (4 were plenty), and I could answer questions as I went along without diluting the tension, by raising new questions along the way. 

7.       The Ending Should Tie Into the Heart of Your Book:  The ending should not only fulfill the promise of your hook and plot, it should tie into the greater theme of your story.  The most important lesson I learned in going through this process was that as an author you should have something to say.  Your book should be about something more than the plot and the characters.  It should have some comment on the human condition, and the ending should tie into that.  In SILVER, the main character’s primary conflict centers around whether she would kill to survive, even if it means killing someone she loves, and her fear that she would.  The climax had to confront that issue head on.  (And no, it didn’t come close in the first version).   

8.       The Story Can’t End Too Soon or Too Late:  Remember all that talk last week about starting your story in the right place?  Turns out it has to end there too.  My tendency to want to tie up too many plot threads, led to too many chapters of explanation long after the main conflict was resolved (to the extent it was resolved (see above)).  Stories can also end too soon.  You know that horrible feeling when you’re reading a book and it is getting absolutely unputdownable and then you notice there are only four pages left?  I’m not a fan of that.  I want the big exciting climax, and then some down time to catch my breath and gain some understanding about how the characters have been changed.  But then, I like to write ten chapters too many at the end (see above). 

Endings, like any part of writing, are a combination of craft and art.  I was able to take what I learned and craft a new ending that I loved even more, but only because I was willing to not only finish a book, I was willing to start over.


Right there with you. Nodding the whole way. Starting over -- from scratch -- was the most painful and yet productive process, and I am so glad I did. AMEN for agents who see the potential, and are patient and willing to slay the beast with us.

Great post, and I can't wait to read SILVER.

Thanks. This is really helpful. I'm three quarters of the way through my first draft of a YA novel and will keep all of this advice in mind. Keep the great posts coming!

Thank you for sharing the lessons you learned - the hard way!

*takes copious notes*
/someone who is currently replotting and rewriting the ending of her book. Again. (after doing it three times for "first" book.) :)

Good luck with silver. I'm about to start the same process with my first YA book. I've made many of the mistakes you have mentioned. This post helps clarify a few things. Thanks.

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