26 May 2014
by Jan Grape
The beginning of your book is where your ending starts. Yes, class, I know that sounds weird but think about it for a minute. I hope that you have your main character find a body or get notified there's a body. Someone likely needs to be killed in the first chapter or at least in the first fifty pages of your book. Of course, maybe your mystery isn't a murder mystery but a kidnapping or a bank robbery or a thriller where someone important is about to be killed. If so, that's fine. Whatever your book is, and it might even been a romantic suspense or a futuristic suspense, the beginning of your book is where your ending starts.
The first chapter or chapters presents the problem. Something bad has happened or is going to happen and your main character is going to have to take care of the problem. Solve the murder, find the robbers, win the girl or the guy, whatever. Your book is going to open with the main character having a vested interest somehow, come hell or high water, making sure he or she wins the day. That's what I mean by saying your ending starts with the beginning.
Immediately you want to give your main character an emotional reason to solve the case or in the case of a police character or a private eye, it's the job and they won't get paid unless the case is solved. It's more meaningful to the reader,, however even if the investigator gets paid, that the main reason to go all out is somehow there's emotional involvement. The victim is someone known to the main character or to another character who is close to the main character. Or the baby kidnapped belongs to the sister of the protagonist. Or the bank robbery is taking place where the main character's mother works. Something that makes it important to the main character.
The way you get from the beginning to the ending is by writing an exciting and intriguing middle. And I won't spend much time talking about that because that's your story. I just thought I'd tell you a little bit that I've learned about endings.
Honestly, I think most of you know how to write great endings. I have read two or three best-selling authors who, in my opinion, never learned how to end a book. And no, I'm not going to name names because that's not what this article is about. Maybe one day later I'll do an article on that… NOT.
So, you've got your great beginning and you've told your reader why this mystery must be solved. Once you've built intrigue and peopled your book with dynamic characters and led them through great scenery and intrigues for the middle portion of your story. You've thrown one complication after another at your main character, it's time to build the final climax and end the book.
You've led your reader down one path and then another and you finally know whodunit you must remember this is the make or break point. You want your readers to feel satisfied, that justice prevailed. My all time belief is that one reason mysteries are so popular is because the bad guy or gal loses. Good guy or gal wins the day and that doesn't happen often enough in real life. We want to see justice.
So bring your main character to the point of no return. The last complication paints your protagonist into a corner where it looks like there is absolutely no way out. The tension and suspense need to build to the highest ever. He or she knows it's time to face the bad guy, but do you go the easy way or the hard way. You'd likely be better off to choose the hard way because your reader is going to throw your book across the room when they read that last line if not. They have been with you all the way and they want a satisfying ending. They don't want the case handed to the protagonist on a silver platter. But somehow the right solution is there for the main character to show the reader and to stop a miscarriage of justice. You don't necessarily have to kill the bad guy although there is a lot of satisfaction in that, especially if the bad guy is really evil. But stopping the villain from leaving by tackling and handcuffing and calling for police can also be satisfying.
Be sure you've covered the motivation of the villain. Most bad guys aren't one hundred percent bad. A redeeming quality makes them more real. You might even feel a little sorry as you put on the handcuffs but then again, maybe not. The villain may not need to tell the main character why they killed the victim but somewhere along the line that motivation came up. Maybe in a diary or journal or on the personal computer your main character found and read before the villain caught your main character.
Be sure you cover the motivation of your main character. Their emotional involvement has been there all throughout the book, even if just to get a big payday or a big promotion or win the love of a lifetime. Don't forget to tie up loose ends. You may have to do this with the main characters side-kick or best pal or love interest. Mainly remember you only want this final bit to be short and sweet, only a few pages long. You want to let the reader know that the main character gets the big payday or promotion or the love of a lifetime.
Then the last line or paragraph can be the pat on the back or the check to put in the bank or the main character gets a kiss and loving embrace. It's always nice if your last line can have a touch of humor.
Thanks for listening, class, now let's all go have a glass of wine.