The four stumbling blocks of concluding a novel:
1. The dead end
I once read a manuscript where the protagonist visits a deserted island in Thailand with his friends, after lying to his parents that he has taken up work in Germany. The novel is full of surprises and excitement, and we can bite our nails when drug smugglers, who would not shrink even from murder, begin pursuing our hero, or when the party is plunged into the nightlife of Bangkok. However, the writer delays completion from there on, the action slows down, and the author finally tries to close the novel with the protagonist making up another lie to his parents, now heading to Hawaii.
Here the reader sighs painfully, for he expected some moral, some change of character developed by the writer. The first pitfall, therefore, is when the hero does not grow or change in character, does not learn something important. In such a case, devise a new ending or write a new story.
2. Rushed conclusion
Has it ever happened to you as a reader that you have sweated along, kept being excited by a long novel, and then the writer put an end to the book in two short pages? You were left there, thinking just about this, ‘Was that all, then?’ ‘Is it all over now, nothing else?’
This is an outstanding case of criminalising fiction, a mental swindle against the reader. But why would a writer do such a thing? There could be various reasons, but I think the main one is that the writer wants to get over with the novel and finish it. Believe me, when we have reached the end of a 400-500-page book, as writers, we are often tempted by the quiet whisper, ‘Finish it quickly and forget about it.’ But why should we spoil a delicious cake by simply blowing a little whipped cream over it and lying, after the lots of complicated baker’s steps, ‘Done’? The end of the novel must be handled with the same care as the rest. Indeed! In fact, this is a particularly sensitive part of our writing, because the reader will certainly remember it, be it good or bad.
3. Random coincidences
Have you ever been driving on a mountain road where there was nothing to meet from the other direction for miles but then, suddenly, five cars appeared behind each other? Similarly, when, in a novel, not only one but several things suddenly appear, one after the other, so that the writer could support or justify the action. Life is full of coincidences but, believe me, in our novel, such cases will feel clumsy, even unrealistic. In the event of a problem in our novel, we cannot offer an immediate, instant solution from the neighbourhood. If our hero has been struggling with depression for a long time, he can’t suddenly realise that his neighbour is a nationally renowned psychologist who he can just walk over to, and he will solve his problem in no time.
4. A secret escape route
A characteristic element of stories is a surprising, unexpected event that suddenly entirely solves a complication that have hitherto been thought insoluble. Generally, divine intervention.
In ancient Greek drama, the plot often became so hopeless that only a miracle or divine intervention could solve it. For instance, a divinity came, or rather descended, onto the stage for the sake of effect. The actor playing a god did not simply walk in but descended onto the stage with the help of a large crane or other structure among the actors. So the god got on the stage from the machine, or rather with the help of the machine and solved the situation.
Children can use this kind of deus ex machina for many years to tell their stories. For example, Eve was attacked by a wolf in the forest, she was pursued for a long time, but then she woke up and realised that it was only a dream. The lesson, therefore, is simple: Never force the reader to be taken in by a cheap little story about a sudden, striking and absolute redeemer, a hero.