Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 8: Untying The Knots


Goal setting

  1. Develop the ending of your novel in your synopsis.
  2. Decide what roles your characters will play in the story.
  3. Revise the outlines you’ve created so far.

Breaking it down

From big showdowns to ‘bumps’

This week we’re looking at making the ending in your synopsis more exciting. The big moment you should be looking is the ‘showdown’ between the protagonist and antagonist. The final test, the climax. It’s about tightening the tension to the point where you can’t squeeze any more from the story. Then releasing that tension, for your characters and the reader.

Is there a moment where your main character comes face to face with his or her tormentor? Who wins? Who loses? How does this happen? Where will it take place? This should be the strongest scene in your book. In the crime thriller, The Equalizer, the vigilante McCall has a showdown with Nicolai, the hired hit man, in a deserted Home Mart store at night.  An unusual setting — but one that worked well.

After the climax, you start to show the outcome for your characters. Some people call this tying up the loose ends. But if you look at the origins of the French word denouement — which means untying — it’s really about making sure you’ve unravelled all the ‘knots’ you’ve created in your plot.  For every conflict you’ve set up, there should be a resolution.

In my novel, the climax brings together all the major players in the story. It ticks the right box at the right moment in the story. But I didn’t want to give the reader just the expected and inevitable moment — so I added on a ‘bump.’

This is a scene, near the end of the novel, where your lead has to face a last obstacle. This challenge usually comes out of nowhere and blind sides your main character.  In my story, Jenna, my heroine, comes up against one final challenge — a final ‘knot’ before I could end the story. 

Character masks

Because my novel is a thriller, I knew I had to create some twists and in the plot. Keep in mind: other genres also have these surprises. A family drama, like August: Osage County, has just as many ‘gasp moments’ as any crime story.

To do this, I realised, you sometimes have to give characters masks. Not Batman or Zorro masks — although if that suits your story, why not? — but personas that hide that character’s true role in the story.

For example, the small-town sheriff who turns out to be the killer is wearing the mask of justice. The best friend who is secretly sleeping with the hero’s wife is wearing the mask of friendship.

The tricky part, for us as writers, is making sure we don’t confuse the mask the character wears with his or her function in the story.  Let’s take that best friend as a scenario. If you know that the best friend is actually the antagonist in the story, you have to make sure he wears the mask of friendship convincingly — and you have to make sure that, when his true function is revealed as the antagonist, you do it just as convincingly. What was his true motivation? Why is he a craven coward? 

Recapping and refining

It’s also time this week to reflect on what we’ve achieved this far in our journey.

At this point, you should have a detailed working synopsis, which covers the beginning, the broad swathe of the middle, and the end of your novel. You’ll also have character descriptions and some of your initial research dusted. Perhaps you’ve even decided on your theme.

This is your chance to look at these elements. Try to  identify any gaps or holes in your plot, character, setting and theme. In my synopsis, I realised that I jumped too quickly from the set-up to the middle of my story. The first major plot point had to mark the end of one ‘world’ — where Jenna and Matt are safe as a couple — and the start of a ‘new world’ — where they are in danger. What would signify that they were being stalked? This had to be a strong scene and it was missing.

There may be a few things you have to add into your synopsis or character sheets, but don’t obsess about getting it perfect. It just has to be ‘workable’. 

Timelock — four to seven hours

2-3 hours to work on the ending of your novel
1-2 hours to work on character roles
1-2 hours to refine your synopsis and character sheets

5 Quick Hacks

  1. If you’re struggling with the ending, start with the very last scene in your story and work your way backwards to the climax.
  2. What is the one thing your antagonist has burned to say to your hero but hasn’t been able to say? What would your hero say to your antagonist? Write it out as dialogue.
  3. Imagine a dream sequence where your characters are at a fancy dress party. What masks — yes, the Batman or Zorro masks — that would reveal their true nature?
  4. Wake your characters up at three a.m. — warn them about what’s about to happen them at the end? What do they tell you?
  5. Look at the rest of the synopsis and try to focus on the same tensions and conflicts in your climax.

Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling.’ — John Irving

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year! Week 9: The Building Blocks Of Your Novel

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

by Anthony Ehlers

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 7: The Moment of Truth
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 6: Overcoming Your Fear of the Middle
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 5: What Will Happen Next?