3. Climax & After
In 19th century novels, readers liked a lot of closure. They enjoyed being told who was rewarded, who punished, and they enjoyed seeing all the ends tied off. Often, an epilogue would give them a summary of the rest of the main characters’ lives.
Nowadays, we don’t ask for as much closure as that. We don’t believe in permanent happiness or lifelong stability in real life, so we don’t expect it in novels either.
There’s another consideration: the possibility of a sequel. Anyone writing fantasy, in particular, would be mad to close off a story so completely that they could never write a sequel. (I did this with my very first novel, The Vicar of Morbing Vyle. It took me ten years to discover that, although I couldn’t write a sequel, I could write a prequel!)
The trick is to leave a degree of openness while conveying a sense of closure. If you tie off the major strands of the narrative, it’s not difficult to leave smaller strands ongoing—strands that will become major in a sequel. You allow growing-space for further developments and maybe plant a few teasers as well.
I’m wary of thinking too much about sequels while actually writing a novel, though. Ferren and the Angel was written as a stand-alone, until I unpicked the ending and started wondering what might happen next. That worked fine.
It wasn’t so fine when I planned and wrote two more novels to complete the trilogy, Because I planned them together, the stories ran into one another, and Ferren and the White Doctor became a mere lead-in to Ferren and the Invasion of Heaven. I had to re-think and re-write to give Ferren and the White Doctor a complete story-arc of its own.