The End Game

The End Game

Posted on April 27 by Brenda Chapman
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One of the toughest parts about writing a mystery novel is crafting the ending. When I begin a manuscript, I have a general idea of the crime and who the culprit will be. Over the next 80,000 to 90,000 words, I develop characters, insert clues and red herrings, and work to make the plot gallop along at a steady clip. Along about the point where the action reaches its climax and the killer is to be revealed, the agonizing begins. How will my sleuth put together all of the clues in a way that is not obviously being manipulated by me? Could the reader see the ending coming from a long way away, and just how am I going to gracefully land this flight of fancy anyway?

The ending, after all, is the last taste left in the reader’s mouth after they close the book for the last time, before they head off to the book sites to write their reviews or decide to recommend it to friends. Much like ballet, the final product should appear effortless—the hard work and machinations going on behind the scenes should not be in evidence. The ending needs to be satisfying and logical. A tall order for murder mysteries, which by their nature, often call on the reader to suspend disbelief as bodies mount and the protagonist, uncovers clues.

In some instances, I’ve almost convinced myself that a different character than the one I am planning committed the murder. Yet throughout each manuscript, I’ve planted clues to lead to one person, and so far, I’ve not deviated from my plan. In fact, having other viable culprits means that the plot cannot be easily unravelled by readers. The trick is pulling together all the strands and subplots without simply reciting the list of events that led to capturing the killer. In my mind, this is the greatest challenge in writing a mystery. It is also the most important because the success of the novel hangs in the balance.