So you’ve gotten through the climax of your book. In some manner, the earth moved! Internally, externally, all threads led into one cataclysm and the crux of the matter blew smooth up. Whew! You’re done, right?
Not quite. Now we need one final scene of denouement and resolution. You know, when just as in every scene, the smoke dissipates and we’re left with a clear view of what the heck happened, and what do we do with the pieces remaining.
This is straightforward enough. Either our hero was successful—won the day, the girl, the prize, etc.—or he wasn’t (also known as a Tragedy, which can be for either, actually. For example, he won the day but died doing so, a la Gladiator, etc.). Or he was partly successfully, and will live to fight another day (plot for book 2, and how most trilogies go). Whichever result, he (and the reader) can now see exactly what was won, lost, and what the road ahead looks like. And if you’re successful as the author, both your hero and your readers are satisfied. At least for today.
I see three recurring issues with this crucial part, so let’s just talk about them.
1). This does not mean that every single thread was tied up neatly. In fact, doesn’t that drive you a bit nuts as a reader? When the ribbon so perfectly fits the box that no wiggle room exists anywhere (when I receive such gifts my first thought is always—God save me—this person needs more to do J). Everything is just a bit too neat and tidy.
While your main story question does, indeed, need resolution (one way or another), many of the subplots and themes can quite successfully still be left hanging. This gives the reader the chance to wonder about the characters long after finishing the book. Which, as the author, is one of your goals! You want your readers wondering about those folks—what happens to them and those they love. And not just if you plan a sequel, but in general, as a curious reader will wait for your next one with great anticipation.
2). I often see this section rushed. And, it just can’t be, or you’ll leave your reader puzzled, and not knowing why. Take the time to let all that dust settle, and your hero look out on his new and expanded world. As with everything, don’t tell your reader what she was supposed to learn here, but rather, evoke this from the perception of the hero. Leave your reader with a feeling. The more powerful, the better. An Epilogue works great here!
3). But by far what I see most is this section belabored. I’ve seen manuscripts where the climax occurred on page 300, and the book go on for another 50 pages. You just don’t get that much time or space 🙂
This is one scene. ONE. And that’s it. Rule of thumb: No more than 10 or so pages, and even that’s the end of the spectrum. The entire point of this is to tie the main theme together with the character’s perception of events. And that’s it.
It goes without saying that this is the last thing you leave with your reader, so make it count!