Friday, August 24, 2012

When and how to bring a novel to a grand conclusion!

Happy Friday, everyone! Just to let you know where I'm at with my writing. I'm working on a book called Elusive Hope. This is book 2 in my next series, Escape to Paradise. Book 1, Forsaken Dreams, is done and in my publisher's hands and will be released next February. You may remember the gorgeous cover to the left.  Elusive Hope is due to my publishers on November 1st and I'm nearly done with Draft 2. That means I only have one more time reading and editing the entire thing before I hand it in.  I know it must seem weird to you that I'm already almost done with 2 books past Veil of Pearls, my release last month,  but that's how the industry works. 

This week's questions come from Brenda!

1)  Either before or during -- writing a novel, how do you know when to end it ?   
2)  Are you told how many pages or words to write, a limit so to speak (by your Editor or Publisher) ?   Like, let's say in your very next book -- could you possibly write 1,000 pages "if" you wanted to ?    
3)  And, when you are writing the conclusion ... do you yourself find it difficult to stop?   

Great questions!  

Let me answer number 2 first. Yes, I'm told by my publisher how many words they expect my novel to be. Generally for a full length fiction title, they expect anywhere from 80,000 - 100,000 words. However I'm told I should shoot for 100,000 words. For many authors, this is difficult to reach, but for some reason, I ALWAYS go over that amount. I don't have a single novel that is at or below 100K. Some of my bigger ones are around 115-120K words. 

So, do I know when to end the story? Yes and No. Before I even start writing, I have a general idea of the ending of the book.  I know my characters, I have ideas of what they are going to go through (or what I'm going to put them through! *Evil smirk*). I know the lessons they will learn, and how the story will end. Of course in a romance, part of that ending has to involve the hero and heroine ending up together. Which brings me to a pet peeve of mine: Reviewers who claim my books have a predictable ending!  Like, Duh. You think? Grrrr. Anyway, I digress. 

The real challenge lies in filling in the gaps from the beginning of the story to the end while making the word count come out to around 100K.  The best way to do this is to have check points, which are certain events or crises that you pre-plan. For example, 

  • In the beginning of the novel you show the hero and heroine in their natural worlds and then have the first crises which gets them into the action/adventure/problem.
  • Somewhere in the middle from the beginning to the halfway point, you have another major event that makes things even worse.
  • Then in the middle of the book, another catastrophe that makes the situation even more dire. 
  • About half way from the middle to the end, the final crises occurs which is a point of no return situation where the hero or heroine must take a step and preform some action from which they know they can never go back.
  • Then the ending which wraps everything up. 

I normally have more than just 4 crises, but these are the main ones.

Let me just say that I hate formulas and typically don't use them, but if I lay out the crises I want my protagonists to face in the order I want them to face them in, then I can check my word count when I reach each one to make sure I'm on track.  

Anyway, cool story about my very first book, The Redemption. When I wrote it, I had NO IDEA how long a novel should be. I especially had no idea how many words a publisher expected. I was just answering God's call to write a story about a Christian pirate.  Guess how many words I ended up with?  106,000.  Yup. God was looking out for me. 

From the looks of things, it seems my current novel, Elusive Hope, is going to be a bit over 100K. 

Last but not least, do I find it difficult to end the story?  Am I too connected to the characters and their lives to say Good-bye?  Yes. Absolutely. You cannot imagine how close I become to my characters. I'm in their heads every day, thinking their thoughts, experiencing their fears, their heartaches, worries. They become my nearest and dearest friends.  I love to see them happy in the end but saying good bye is difficult. I normally take a couple weeks off to recover and get them out of my head before I can write anything else. But they never truly leave me. Each character is added to my group of best friends that I carry around with me wherever I go.

That's why we authors are so crazy! 


  1. Fri Aug 24th,
    "Morning, MaryLu." And I mean "Morning" .... as it's only shortly after 6:00 A.M. here !!! Couldn't sleep, and was excited to read your answers on today's blog.
    That's interesting re - how many words to write. (Any time I've tried writing in the past, keeping the 'word count' down to the expected maximum was always a problem for me. And, with reading my weekly comments, you can well appreciate that !) I had no idea of just how many words you were allowed to write for a full-length fiction title.
    Knowing 'when' to end the story: "yes and no" ... that is an honest answer ... but you always have a carefully thought of and well laid-out plan ... for each character, and, the story !
    SO glad to hear that "you yourself" find it difficult to end the story, having become so connected with the characters and their lives ! I don't ever want the story to end, either ! We the readers also become so attached, empathetic and involved with the various characters (with their flaws, weaknesses, heartaches, strengths, and hopes and dreams) ... it is difficult to let them go. However, when there is a 'trilogy' involved ... I just love it when the characters from previous novels reappear (as I'm always left 'wondering' ... "what are they up to now") ! It's like -- reconnecting with 'an old friend'.
    And speaking of "old friends" ... I'm "hoping" that one day (down the line) ... you still might strongly consider writing novels for -- Charity Westcott, the fourth sister mentioned in the Charles Towne Belles series; and, Captain Poole and Abigail. Truly, I SO very much would love to read finsihing stories for these characters.
    And P.S. -- NEVER ONCE did I think you were crazy !!!
    Thanks so much, MaryLu ... for taking the time to answer my questions. This was fun !!!
    So ... "keep on keeping on with your writing, MaryLu" ... working away on "Elusive Hope".
    Thanks again for sharing with us.
    Have a great weekend.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. Love this post! I like hearing about your methods of writing! It's inspiring!

  3. MaryLu, I really enjoy reading your answers to questions on the writing life! Fun! I'd just like to comment on the accusation of "predictable endings". My word, how often have you read a book where you couldn't to some extent predict the ending? Probably hardly ever (except a good whodunit)! If the hero and the heroine DIDN'T end up getting together, we'd be disappointed enough to hurl the book across the room, wouldn't we? That's sort of the point of a romance. And if either of the main characters died or didn't make the right decisions, what would even be the point of the book? There's no real story then. I know it's supposed to be cool or more literary, or something, to have negative anticlimactic endings, but no thank you! I don't read books to be as depressed or saddened as I might be by real life. Maybe I'm putting my head in the sand, but I think Christian books need to encourage and uplift rather than the opposite. Of course I don't expect characters to be perfect angels all at once, but I need to see hope and growth. So please keep giving your books happy endings!

    I have a couple of questions for you to consider answering some day.
    1) What happens to your social/family/church life when you're in the midst of writing? Especially since the characters become like friends, as you say, is it difficult to leave the desk and give your attention to other activities and responsibilities? Do you find ever find yourself so psychologically connected to your books that it becomes a stumbling block to your "real" life?
    2) How do you juggle concentrating on several books at once? It sounds like you have at least three in the cooker at the present moment: one you've just recent done the marketing/publicity for as it came out, one just off to the publishers (which I assume you may still have to do some work on?), and another that you're actually writing at the moment. Is it hard or complicated to go back and forth among them all, especially with the same amount of enthusiasm for each project?

  4. Great questions, Brenda! It is always fun to get a little glimpse inside a writers brain and the writing process! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

  5. Great questions! And you answered them perfectly, MaryLu. I find it hard to say goodbye to your characters, but I guess it is even harder for you. They are your creations, they come from the wonderful imagination the Lord has given you. And everyone needs to be a little crazy once in awhile, to keep things fresh! :)

  6. I like this post! I always love to hear about how you write. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hi Brenda! yes, I think we are both quite verbose! I would love to write Charity's story as well as Captain Poole and Abigail.. time will tell! I think I would lean more toward Captain Poole. He was an interesting pirate, was he not? LOL

    Thanks for dropping by Little Lady!

    Diane, you're exactly right. It's very "literary" to have an odd and depressing ending. Which is one of the reasons I don't read literary novels... along with the fact that most of them bore me to death. I'm with you.. I don't need to watch a movie or read a book that will depress me. Life is hard enough! Thanks for the questions.. I'll answer them next week!

    Emma.. So nice to hear from you! Have a great weekend too!

    Chaplain, Thank you for your kind words.. there are definitely certain characters that stay with me more than others. Charlisse and Merrick still talk to me from time to time. And Hope Westcott and Luke Heaton.. and now Adalia.. Yes, they actually talk to me in my head. Strange...

    Thanks Heather!!

  8. MaryLu, loved the post today. It's fun to see how you put your stories together. Also, pretty cool story about The Redemption. You can't get much closer than that. And I really had to chuckle about those who say that your endings are predictable. After all, normally when you buy a book, whether it be online or in a bookstore, there will be a sign or something letting you know what SECTION your in. So if that doesn't tell them something, well... ;)
    Anyway, good post!

  9. Love it! What a great glimpse into your world. Thank you for sharing it with us! You always encourage and inspire!

  10. I'm super excited for "Forsaken Dreams", I just read Veil of Pearls and it was wonderful. I'm glad that you wrote a heroine who loves God but the world proves a distraction that is sometimes hard to let go of. Someone that I can relate to. Thank you for writing real people and the real way to love God.

  11. Thanks Angie! Yes one would think people would at least read the back of the book before purchasing.. then they'd know it was not only a romance, but a Christian Romance! I get a lot of criticism for being preachy too.! But I take that as a compliment.

    Hi Joleen! Always nice to hear from you. :-)

    Kath, I think all Christians struggle from time to time at being distracted by the world. Our enemy would love to lure us off course.... so glad you enjoyed Veil of Pearls!!

    Have a wonderful Weekend!

  12. Great post today! :) I write a bit myself, and I always have a lot of trouble writing the closing few sentences - I always want to drag it on a little longer before saying goodbye.

    But the end isn't always goodbye - because then comes the editing.