Tying Up the Loose Ends

The hardest part of a novel, sometimes, is ending it.

Because you can’t just bring the thing to a halt at the end of the main action, no matter how greatly you may be tempted.  You have do the wrap-up, the bit where — if the book in question were a fat Victorian novel — the reader would be told who got married, and who took his prize money and bought a tavern, and who took off for Australia or the Yukon and was never seen again.  This would be the classic Where Are They Now epilogue.

How long should the wrap-up be?  Unhelpfully, the best answer is “long enough.”  A short story can wrap up in a single paragraph, or a single sentence.  A novel takes longer — the longer the main story, the more wrap-up time it’s going to need.  Tolkien is notorious for ending The Lord of the Rings four times before he’s done — taking the hobbits in stages back the way they came from Gondor to the Shire, closing all his parentheses in order.

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