By Kevin Paul Tracy
In golf, “the back nine” refers to the second half of an 18-hole golf game. It’s often used as a metaphor for finishing up, or approaching the culmination of a goal. Other sports analogies would be: “the home stretch;” “first and goal;” or “sliding in to home.” In writing I use it to refer to those last ten-to-20 thousand words of your manuscript. You’ve gotten past the swamp, that middle part of the novel that’s not set-up, not climax and denouement, just complication. You’re finally driving everything toward the final conflict and resolution.
But sometimes, if you’re like me, getting all of your characters on stage and where they need to be at just the right time for everything to come together can be a challenge. One of the greatest examples of this is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. The first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of The Ring (actually there are six books in the series, but they are most frequently sold as a trilogy, of which Fellowship consists of the first two) brings the major protagonists most of the way to the land of Mordor, the major goal of Frodo the Ringbearer. But Tolkien has three or four major battles to write about (Isengard, Helms Deep, The Black Gate, etc.) before the final destruction of the ring. So while Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Pippin and the like all criss-cross the country several times over, fighting and having adventures, Tolkien finds excuses to waylay Frodo and Sam, not once, but repeatedly, to keep them from Mount Doom, which is quite literally in sight most of the time, until he can get everyone else to the battle at The Black Gate to see what happens when (SPOILER ALERT) the ring finally gets destroyed. If I may critique what is arguably one of history’s great works of fiction, the ways in which Frodo meets delay after delay always seemed rather shoe-horned in, to me.
Deliberate or not, I think we can do better. Some suggestions…
If you are having trouble with logistics, getting everyone where they need to be for the final conflict, ask yourself if the final conflict has to happen where you have set it. Is there another venue, already used in your story or not, where the confrontation can take place, that your more difficult characters can get to in the same time frame? Asking myself this once led me to the discovery of a much cooler place to present my final resolution than I’d originally planned, that now I routinely ask myself this question, even if I’m not having timing difficulties.
If you’re approaching your maximum word-count, but you still have a lot to fit in, look at ways to time-jump. For example, is it necessary to describe the heist team planning the rescue of a team member from police custody while driving to the courthouse? Or is it sufficient to simply say, “On the drive to the courthouse, the team put together a hasty and daring plan for rescuing Mr. Yellow from the cops.” Then you can just let the plan unfold as it happens, which is often much more effective than laying it out for the reader before-hand.
The absolute worst is coming toward the end of your manuscript, only to become suddenly aware of a glaring flaw in your plot, something someone is bound to notice and pan you for in their online review of your book. I’ve seen writers try to plug this plot hole by suddenly cramming in at the end of their book some spontaneous and transparently make-shift explanation that rarely fools anyone. No, in such a case there is rarely anything you can do but go back and rewrite and fix it the right way. I recently encountered such a flaw that required me to go back to the half-way point of my book and rework everything drastically from that point on. It was a pain, but there is no question the novel is much stronger for it.
At any rate, whatever logistical or timing challenges you encounter as you’re “rounding turn number four” toward the completion of your manuscript, keep in mind, you’re almost done! That should be a grand motivator. Stay agile and be flexible and find creative ways around bottlenecks and log-jams. Often your characters are where they are in the book for a reason, inconvenient as it may be, and sometimes it is incumbent upon you to work around that and still bring in a strong, satisfying conclusion to your story.>/p>
Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.