Bowknots

If the endgame of a novel is hard to write, the bit that comes after the endgame is even harder.  This is the part I think of as the “tying up all the loose ends into a bowknot” stage of a project –  and when I reach it, I have to struggle every time against the urge to simply ring down the curtain on the action climax and be done

But I know that I can’t let myself do that, because skimping on the bowknot stage is a quick way to leave the readers unhappy and unsatisfied with the entire rest of the book.  The bowknot is the part where all the plot coupons get gathered up, and What Was Really Going On gets summarized and explained, and everyone gets played out with sweet music and the implication that the world of the story extends beyond the FINIS and the fade to black.  Tying the bowknot is not the fun part of writing the novel, it’s the part that has to be done with sheer bloody craftsmanship, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.

The other thing to know about bowknots (and this took me longer that it should have to figure out, which is why the last scene of my first novel got rewritten multiple times) is that the length of an effective bowknot is proportional to the size of the work itself.  A short story can be tied up in a single paragraph, or even a single sentence.  A novel can take a whole chapter, or sometimes more.

How do you know you’ve tied up your bowknot in an adequate fashion?  Your best bet is to find a reliable outside reader and bind him or her with strong oaths to tell you truly whether or not the ending works.  Don’t be surprised if it takes several iterations of the process and more than one outside reader to arrive at an acceptable finished product.

And don’t worry too much.  Getting the ending right is a matter of craft, which means it’s something that can be learned, and that can be improved with practice.

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