By Nick Chiarkas
Although I love the idea that, “Art is never finished, only abandoned” (Leonardo da Vinci), as an author I nevertheless must decide when to type “The End.”
To be clear, when writing a non-fiction book, I pretty much know at the start where it will end. But as a novelist, deciding when the book will end is more an agreement between me, the story, and one or more of the characters.
When writing a novel, I write, “The End,” at least twice. First at the end of my initial draft. I then wait two weeks before I look at my draft again and begin the rewriting process. This is the art and the heart of it, this is when I get to build castles (“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” ― Shannon Hale). These are the rewrites I can share with my initial reader, and later with my editor and publisher.
When rewriting openings and closings to each scene, I ask, “Why would the reader want to read on?” and “Why did I start and end the scene with that line or in that way?” The opening and closing to each chapter is even more important. And as crucial as they are, asking “why” at the opening of the book and at the end is monumentally more critical.
In “Weepers” I made four promises to my reader.
First, through foreshowing I promised the coming of an event. For example, in chapter one, which takes place on Christmas Eve, Angelo asks his father why no one has stolen the three Christmas trees on the Journal American Newspaper loading platform. His father answers, “They belong to Uncle Nunzio.” The reader has not met Nunzio yet, but I want her to assume that Nunzio is not someone you should cross. I make a check-off list of all of my foreshadowing, as well as other promises, for my final draft review.
Second, through character development, I promised a change or some other action in one or more characters. For example, in chapter two, Angelo’s mother, Anna, tells Father Joe (her priest) that Angelo is changing and becoming more like the projects in which, they live. I now have an obligation to my reader to show that change to a reasonable degree and at a believable pace.
Third, through each major character, I promised a consistency that rings true. So, while in my first draft, “the end,” was a resolution for all main characters, such an ending would have been a betrayal to Angelo, Anna, and a couple of other characters. To make that ending ring true, I would have had to jump ahead by means of a prologue that I fear would have felt like a ploy to my reader. In addition, since “Weepers” is both a stand-alone novel, and the first in a four-novel series, I had to decide which sub-plots to wrap-up, and which ones to dangle in an effort to create anticipation for future novels in the series.
And fourth, I promised the resolution of mysteries. Describing “Weepers” in 15-words I would say that a, “NYPD cop killing in 1957 has unexpected ties to a young father’s disappearance in 1951.” So, here I must unravel the killing of a police officer, the disappearance of a young father, and the six-year link between them. I must do this with suspense, reasonable surprise and intrigue. And at the same time, my reader must not feel cheated (no bolts of magic, dreams, etc.).
In short, by the end of the novel, in addition to answering questions raised during the story and meeting expectations, I must do so without disappointing my reader. Consequently, after first writing an ending that wrapped everything up in a nice buddle, my initial reader (my wife Judy Olingy) said, “No, no, Angelo and Anna would not respond this way. Consider ending here (sooner).” She was right. I cannot over-state the importance of a good initial reader and editor.
Finally, as I said above, “Weepers” is the first of a four-novel series, but I also want it to stand-alone. Therefore, some questions and foreshadowing remain, however, it is crucial that they are not detrimental to a free-standing story.
In the end, I want my reader to say, “That was a good read, a satisfying ending, and I would like to read more about the Weepers, Angelo, Nunzio, Anna, and others.”
About Author: I grew up in the Al Smith housing projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When I was in the fourth grade my mother was told by the principal of PS-1 that, “Nick was unlikely to ever complete high school, so you must steer him toward a simple and secure vocation.” Instead, I became a writer, with a few stops along the way: a New York City Police Officer; the Deputy Chief Counsel for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; and the Director of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Agency. On the way I picked up a Doctorate from Columbia University; a Law Degree from Temple University; and was a Pickett Fellow at Harvard. How many mothers are told their child is hopeless? How many kids with potential simply surrender to desperation? That’s why I wrote “Weepers”—for them.
Website: www.nickchiarkas.com Also visit Nick’s: Amazon Author Page and Goodreads Author Page
You Tube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCjn5mfHw0Jo8DMrXdG2QeSw
Weepers Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6RTOr9gB3E
Available: Weepers by Nick Chiarkas is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, University of Wisconsin Bookstore, Mystery to Me, other local independent bookstores, and from the publisher. Amazon Barnes and Noble https://www.mysterytomebooks.com/weepers http://www.uwbookstore.com/ www.henschelhausbooks.com
Read Thonie Hevron’s books: By Force or Fear, Intent to Hold, and With Malice Aforethought are all available through Amazon.
5 replies on “When is it THE END?: Nicholas Chiarkas”
Interesting that you want your novel to stand-alone as well as be a part of a series. Do you think all series fiction should also be able to ‘stand-alone’? It must be difficult to do this if it is a lengthy series, as you wouldn’t want to be too repetitive about certain static yet salient facts about the characters.
You bring up a good point from Nick’s post: stand-alone series. I think there is an artful way of telling backstory without drenching the reader in details. My three thrillers are written in a similar manner. I want the reader to be able to finish book 3 if he’s just picked it up. Then, after a satisfying ending, have him go back and find the first two. Nick? Any thoughts?–Thonie
Good comment by Fictionophile. I do not think all series fiction should also be able to stand-alone. This is something that each novelist of a series must decide for herself. In some respects, it is a choice between ending with a cliff hanger (without annoying the reader) or complete the story with a few daggling questions and a sense of continues character development. For example, while I believe that I have kept my promises in Weepers, and resolved the primary mystery, in Chapter 30, two priests are talking about Angelo (a key character) and the Weepers:
“Once they left the liquor store, Father Casimiro said, “Joe, we saved Angelo from the Knights, and the other gangs. But we both heard about what happened last night in the Cherry Street Park. So do we count this as a success? Did we save him?”
“Good question, Robert. I guess it depends on what the Weepers become.”
Father Casimiro and Father Joe walked past the Weepers’ storefront and waved to the boys inside.”
My hope here is that my reader will want to know what happens, and that the characters are compelling enough to interest the reader in wanting to know more about them.
Clearly, if the characters change substantially in each book in a series the reader will become frustrated and loss interest in continuing. So, I want the reader to be satisfied by the ending (actually I would want the reader to love the ending, but…), but love the story and the characters enough to want more.
Now, all of this assumes the reader is starting with the first book in the series. Prolific and outstanding authors like Thonie Hevron, manage to do this with ease and have also developed an extraordinary ability to give just the right amount of backstory threaded “organically” throughout each subsequent novel in a series to inform the reader who picks up her third novel first. This reader will understand and love the story as “free-standing” while at the same time wanting to read earlier books in the series. This is not easy, even for the best writers, but when it works, you have a winning series. Again, I would refer you to Thonie’s series.
A final thought here is when there is a time gap, (for example, from book one to book two) knowing how your characters have changed is both fun and a challenge. You must ask yourself, what have they (certain key characters) been doing over the past, let’s say, three-years, that is consistent with the characters, of interest to the reader, and moved the series arc along. Also, in what ways have the key characters effected the environment of the story, including each other.
Wow, Nick! Thanks for the kind words.
it’s just the facts, ma’am.