Wednesday, September 21, 2011

You're Probably Wondering Why I Called You All Here

In the last few weeks, whenever a friend asked how my writing was going, my stock answer was "I hate denouements."

A denouement is the part of a mystery novel where the clues come together, the puzzle is solved, everything's explained and the loose ends are tied up.

As I approach the denouement, I'm always reenergized. I've mentioned before that writing a novel can be likened to swimming across the ocean. Once I've planted the last clue, it's like looking up and finally seeing the opposite shore. I can pick a landing spot and head for it. Problem is, I'm tempted to sprint, forgetting about all the writing equivalents of shoals and riptides.

Explanations in and of themselves are pretty boring. If you've ever had a college lecture course, you know what I mean. Doing a simple quick explanation will only tempt the reader to skip ahead to the ending, then it won't be satisfying for them.

Few writers have the skills of Agatha Christie, who could pull off the type of denouement where all suspects are gathered together and the detective goes through the motives and opportunity of each one. Christie always saved several twists for these scenes, to keep the denouement interesting. Not that she didn't play fair. She probably told you the vital clues in chapter one and promptly misled you so much, you forgot them.

Most writers I know combine the denouement with the final suspenseful confrontation. The villain spills his guts while trying to kill the hero. Or the villain is smart enough not to spill his guts, but gets caught in the act. Or the hero makes the last connection in time to save an innocent life.

Regardless of how the denouement unfolds, it must keep the reader turning pages while providing a fair and satisfying solution. The best ones are dragged out just enough to make the reader beg for more.

I've read tons of writing advice about spending serious time on first chapters, getting them right, so you irresistibly draw the reader into your books. I think denouements are even more difficult to write, and it's so hard to go slow on those last few chapters. Hence my grumpy mood right now.

Still, by taking time to do the denouement well, you draw the reader into your next novel.

'Scuze me, I'm nearing the breakwater.



Member, Delaware Valley Mystery Authors