Thursday, December 29, 2011


photo credit
This is a post from December of last year, but I thought it appropriate to repost:

This week I want to talk about the resolution in our writing. As in, how the heck do I tie everything up with a pretty bow and still leave myself open for the the other five books I hope I get signed for?

Rule number one: Write a book that stands alone

Yep you heard me. I don't care if you've spent years partitioning out a seven book series that's hundreds of thousands of words long. I (and agents and editors) don't want to know about it. Sure you can say there's series potential when querying. You may even have an outline ready. But the single most important thing is to have a solid, well-written manuscript to hand over that stands on its own two legs.

Rule number two: Dynamic Characters

Now that we've established that your problem must be resolved (at least to some satisfactory level) you have to round off that character arc too. The plot and character arcs don't necessarily have to line up exactly, but the person (or demon, or vampire, or ghost, or whatever) we meet in the beginning of the story should not be the same person we end up with. Whatever you've done, whatever he or she has gone through, we want to see that it's changed him or her. Give your character time to come to grips with whatever earth shattering thing has happened at the end. If I'm invested, I want to see what happens.

Rule number three: Don't meander

Just like sometimes we have trouble knowing when the story really starts, so do we have trouble knowing where it ends. I just said above that we need to see the characters come to grips with whatever the big changes were. But we don't need to see them continue on in their day to day lives for another full week just so that we know they can handle it. Let's look at Harry Potter as an example (since I hate ruining endings for you if you haven't read another book I might use). At the end of Sorcerers Stone (and most subsequent books) we see the school year come to an end at Hogwarts. We finish the big fight with Voldemort. But we also decompress by having the big heart to heart with Dumbledore, see that the school remains intact, wrap up subplots like Gryffindor winning the house cup, and resolve ourselves to the idea that Harry must go back to the Dursley's but with the hope that it will work out when he returns next year. Nice and neat. And still room for a sequel. We don't have to see him actually get back to the Dursley's house because it does nothing for the book as a whole.

Rule number four: Don't rush it

Sometimes we've gone so far with this thing that's taken on a life of its own that when we finally see the finish line looming ahead, we take off at a run. Slow it down. Keep the pacing right for the moment. I (the reader) have waited the whole darn book for this. I've ridden the roller coaster with the characters, invested my time, and now I want something that satisfies me. Which brings us to-

Rule number five: Don't pull it out of your you-know-what

I'm a pantser folks. I hardly ever plan my manuscripts out from the get go. I take notes. But I don't outline. I like to be surprised (yeah go figure that one out). But I know that in order to wrap it up in the hero's favor, I need to give both he and the reader the tools to be able to do that along the way. Clues and information he can use. His friends can help, but he needs to have to make a choice that results in the outcome, whether good or bad. And that's all on him. So if suddenly the magic fairy shows up and sprinkles fairy dust on the villain, the reader's going to be pissed and rightfully so. Just like Harry had to face down Voldemort himself.

What rules do you have to add?


  1. Bravo!

    I liked this post. I think re-posting it was a good idea.

    I don't outline either. I've tried that... I'd get somewhere along the line and want to just write the dang scene, instead of planning it out! And I love the way my muse (or is it the characters) decide which way they are going, or possibly change who/what they are abruptly. The magic moments of writing is, I think, what makes it so exciting to me.
    ~Lorelei (^;

  2. These are great rules! I've always struggled with resolutions. Like, always. Sigh. I just need good critique partners to be the final word.

  3. Such great advice, and I keep coming back to point the first:
    Make your book stand alone.

    At which point you call me a hypocrite, because I have a series out. BUT, Ondine was a stand-alone book to begin with. My agent sold it as a stand-alone and the publisher asked for a sequel. I've heard this happens a fair bit.

    Happy New Year to you and all your readers.

  4. I think when we fall in love with our characters the temptation is to follow them through more than one journey. I agree agree agree that it is so important to make their first adventure one that shines by itself. Happy New Year.

  5. Thanks for re-posting as I wasn't around these parts last year. Numbers 3 and 4 are interestingly important...don't meander, but don't rush either. That pacing thing (not the one over the bedroom floor at 2AM trying to find the right word) absolutely makes or breaks a story.

    Happy New Year!

  6. Thanks for re-posting this one, Lisa! Like Dean, I wasn't deep into the blogging world this time last year (and I haven't gotten the chance to peruse ALL the archives of my favorites yet). Rules #1, 3, 4 & 5 are biggies for me. :)

    Hope you have a safe, wonderful & happy New Year!

  7. But the single most important thing is to have a solid, well-written manuscript to hand over that stands on its own two legs.

    AND, at the same time, have a book that compels people to want to read the next one (without the crutch of a cliffhanger ending). Oh so difficult.

    Great post!

  8. Excellent points! For me, one of the (many) tricky things to master is pacing. Too fast? Too slow? Just right? And sometimes we only learn that through talented, brilliant beta readers *cough cough* or reading through it ten million times. Did I say ten million? I meant eleven million.

  9. I'm signing up for the "Don't Meander" and "Don't Rush It." Then I'm adding, "Don't Forget to Floss." I mean the brain. Sometimes you need to clear out all those stale ideas and start fresh. This is the time to do it!

  10. It's easy to get caught up in the little details of the manuscript and to forget the bigger issues. Thanks for posting this!

  11. Hey! This is a GREAT repost, and I love the part about letting the sequels end naturally. I've read too many series books lately that really ticked me off with the ending. You've got to wrap some things up... :D Thanks, girl! <3

  12. What a great list of rules and an awesome time to be reminded! Thank you for the kick in the pants!

  13. Great post! I can relate to wanting to rush through the climax just because I'm so excited to get there, but you're right about owing it to our readers to do it right.