It’s the gift that keeps on giving
Yesterday while working on a novel, I typed “The End.” Those words are magic, aren’t they?
They mean you’ve completed a marathon. A project you’ve been slaving over for months, maybe even years, is finally done! You have a whole story — no, a whole world! — spread out before you. You’ve created a universe, breathed life into its people, directed them as they played out adventures and drama and intrigue. You’ve laughed and cried and explored and cringed and triumphed with them. You’ve learned things about them that you never imagined were in them.
And now you’re done!
Time to take a deep breath, maybe celebrate, maybe just relax. And after that?
Don’t publish your work. Don’t submit it anywhere. Just don’t. Because as magical as “The End” may be, it’s not the end.
In a first draft, even one you revised in bits and pieces as you go along, “The End” means something very specific. It means, “Now I can finally see what my story is supposed to be.” Not what it is, what it’s supposed to be. There’s a huge difference.
Novels are complex. They involve numerous characters and settings, plots and subplots, themes and variations. Until you have the whole shebang down on paper, real or virtual, you can’t see overall lay of the land. The 20,000 foot overview will elude you while you fill in the details inch by inch — or centimeter by centimeter, if you think in metric.
This may be less true if you’re an uber-plotter. Maybe you made such detailed notes before writing the first word of the text that you know exactly how all the widgets fit together. But even then, “The End” isn’t the end. Just as rivers change course over time, stories alter as we write them, even if just a little, even when written from a meticulous outline.
Me, I’m no uber-plotter. Outlines just don’t work for me. (See Plotting When You Hate Plotting.) So I know that whatever I have when I type “The End” isn’t the end, not by a long shot. A few weeks or maybe a month hence, enough time to get some distance from what I’ve written, I’ll return to my novel. I’ll read it through, paying attention to the overall structure, making sure I didn’t leave out anything important, cutting or rewriting whatever doesn’t fit. I’ll make three, maybe four passes through it, refining story and language each time until I’m happy with it. And when I am, another magical “The End” moment will occur. That’s the point at which I’m actually done, when I’m finally ready to release my work to . . .
. . . my editor-wife. And together, we’ll start revising all over. Only when we’re both happy will we move to publication.
That’s another magical thing about “The End.” It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Once you’re done with your novel, once your editor is done, once the work is at long last published, “The End” can becomes magic for your readers, too, who upon encountering it will (all authors hope) think, “What an amazing world I just visited!”
Until next time . . .
In case you’re wondering, the novel I’ve just completed is titled Weasel Words. It’s a crime/humor tale featuring Bernard and Melody Earls, a husband-wife team of thieves hired to steal, of all things, a sterling silver statuette of a pine marten, a European species of weasel. Bernard and Melody debuted in my flash fiction tale An Incident at the Mall. They reprised their roles in subsequent flash fiction stories An Incident at the Grocery Store, Happy New Year!, Washed Up, The Photograph, and Still Life With Melody. I had so much fun writing them that I wanted to put them in a novel. And so I have. Let the world beware…