As I approach the ending of my novel-in-progress, I realize there’s more to do than just wrap up the main plot. Most call these subplots threads. But that makes the process of pulling them all together sound way too easy.
I witnessed a comical scene outside a party store recently that represented a much more fitting metaphor. My sister and I were leaving the mall parking lot when the car ahead of us pulled to the curb, and a slight man emerged from the store. He was surrounded by his quarry of at least thirty helium balloons. Barely anchored to the sidewalk, it seemed at first a stiff breeze might lift him into flight.
“Pull over, Terri. I gotta watch this.”
The man opened the rear door of the car and placed one foot inside. He hesitated, gazing desperately above him at the gigantic cloud of balloons, which were shifting and bumping wildly in the wind. His look of despair said clearly he knew—there was no way he was getting that defiant mass into the car that way. A brief conversation ensued with the unseen driver, who then got out and opened the other rear door.
Terri and I are still wondering why neither of us picked up our smartphones to film this. But in truth, we were both laughing so hard, I doubt either could have pulled it off. With tears streaming down our faces, we watched as the man inched his way into the back seat, carefully pulling the oscillating cloud in behind him. He disappeared, his quarry jiggling and struggling, clearly reluctant to be contained. But one by one, the balloons popped into the car and out of sight. When more than half had succumbed, there was another pause.
Then a foot appeared out of the open door on the other side and out he came, clutching his fist of strings. On the opposite side of the vehicle, the stragglers fought on. Five, four, three, two, one. Finally, miraculously, the last balloon popped inside.
Don’t ask me how the two men managed to drive—safely—to their destination with thirty odd balloons bumping around their heads.
That’s what tying up plot threads is like. When you’ve spent weeks or months (or longer) developing your characters, choreographing the plot, written your black moment and you’re sailing toward the end of your final chapter, it hits you. You suddenly notice the cloud of balloons you’re dragging behind you. And it’s your job to somehow fit all of those sub-plots and ancillary characters neatly into the story’s ending. The process can be daunting, but if you rush it through, or fail to fold each and every balloon into a satisfying and believable ending, your reader will feel cheated and disappointed.
So open the door on the other side. Think beyond the end of your story, at what might happen somewhere down the road for the minor characters in your book. How might the situation you left hanging in Chapter Seven affect your hero and heroine after they’re finally together? Might there not be a romance in the future for those minor characters who hooked up at the beginning of your story?
Hold on tight to those plot threads and OPEN ANOTHER DOOR. Not only will it free up your mind to imagine convincing ways for those situations to conclude, for those characters to exit—stage left—and gracefully, but who knows? You might even discover the seed of a sequel, an idea for yet another book in a series.
Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed by all those pesky, untethered plot threads, just remember the man with the balloons, and the sage advice his experience teaches. Don’t leave plot balloons bumping around in the wind, or you’ll never make it safely to The End.