I saw an interesting question on social media about writing, and in particular about how to end a novel (although I guess it applies to some shorter pieces too!) Someone had just finished the first draft of their novel which has taken quite a while to write. It’s a mystery and the question was:
should I reveal the ‘whodunit’ on the last page, then just leave what happens next to the reader’s mind, or go further with a bit of drivel?
I do understand the point although I would take issue with the bit of drivel – no reader will be happy with that! A friend once gave me some good advice after reading one of my novels which she very much enjoyed. Although all the mystery was explained, good overcoming bad, etc. it ended with the biggest secret revealed… and that was it… She said it was too abrupt, and after she had followed the characters through all their adventures and perils, just for them to suddenly stop was unexpected and left her feeling a bit bereft… as if they hadn’t even bothered to say goodbye! I really took note of her comments, and with the next book, when I had what I considered a great surprise ending after some dramatic action, I wrote another chapter, which just tied up the characters future lives… it wasn’t necessarily happy ever after, but it let the reader then imagine what might happen next, and there was an element of hope and joy in that last brief chapter.
Here are some of the comments in answer to “should I reveal the ‘whodunit'”
- Answer: No, don’t reveal the villain on the last page; do it at the end of the chapter before at the latest. Then in the next/final chapter you tidy up all the loose ends and red herrings.
Response to the answer: This is my dilemma as I have tired up all the loose ends.
- Answer: It depends; if your whole story concludes there, all your character arcs are closed, and every loose end tied, then go for it. I’m always a fan of breaking convention when it works, but that’s very difficult in this type of novel. It’s as if that would be the least important part by that point in the story, and then who cares?! Do you even need to reveal it?
Response to the answer: the crime was in committed in self-defence and so fighting back, made it a welcome ending – or so I hope.
- Answer: I’d say take it a little further. Let your readers know that your main character is OK… or not.
- Answer: I’d personally prefer some explanation after the reveal, but then again I do love an epilogue! Maybe add an epilogue!
- Answer: Tidy up and set the scene for what might happen next (for the characters)
- Answer: Why not write it both ways and see which reads better to you, and to others whose judgement you trust?
I think these are all really good, helpful points and suggestions. However, I do understand the person who has written the story – maybe they have been writing it and everything has been heading towards that great moment of action and reveal! I know what it’s like when you have the perfect ending/beginning/hero/villain/setting etc. and others can see that it just doesn’t work as well as you think it does!
In another of my stories (unpublished) another friend read it and suggested that one of the main characters should be the villain. I was shocked! The character was so adorable! He couldn’t be a baddie! No! No!! No!!! Much later I looked back at the story again and could see exactly what my friend had meant. To have the shady characters revealed as the real bad guys at the end just wasn’t very exciting! To have the nice guy be the real baddie was so much more unexpected, and heart-breaking for the main character!
This is what I wrote in answer to the query: Sometimes readers need time to disengage particularly if they have been really caught up in the narrative and with the characters. It can feel a bit brutal if it’s too abrupt!! Good luck!!