A Novel Observed #24 – Rushing The Finish

The Writing Stage

The Writing Stage

Sometimes rushing to the finish is a good thing. In a race, for instance, as a runner turns the final bend and looks along the straight towards the ribbon (or whatever it is), the sight of it spurs her on. She picks up the pace. She breaks into a sprint. She narrows her eyes, ignoring all behind … and so on. When writing a novel, however, rushing the finish might not be quite such a great thing. Sure, I want to actually finish the novel, but I don’t want to make the mistake of not finishing it properly!

I have a tendency to do this when reading books. As I enter the final chapters, I’m so desperate to get the end to find out what happens that I start skim reading, even hopping over whole paragraphs in my mad dash to reach the conclusion. It’s poor discipline.

Rushing the finish when writing is also poor discipline… but for me the last few chapters are as hard as, sometimes even harder than, the first – and if you want to know how difficult starting a novel is, have a look at my post on why the start is so difficult.

Breaking Down

The way I tackle this problem is to break the last few chapters down into manageable portions, specifically, into individual scenes. Like this.

The plot outline for the end of No Time To Stand And Stare went as follows:

  • Friday
    • When Emma arrives, he checks that the couple met up at the pub
    • The party gets underway with a barbecue and a band and Sebastian mingles with people
      • He and Emma talk about his return to London.
      • He is sorry to leave. She is sorry he is going to leave
    • As the band play in the background with people dancing and enjoying themselves, the pair of them sneak along to the pub to peer in through the window
      • Victor and Mrs Standfield and sitting together, talking. Both are smiling
      • Emma starts to cry and Sebastian hugs her. They kiss, but so briefly that it was almost over before it began
    • They head back to the party to join in the celebrations
  • Saturday
    • Disappointed that he is not required to collect the eggs and take them to the shop, Sebastian departs for the station in Neil’s 4×4
      • Victor and Mrs Standfield come to wave him off, but Emma does not
        • Victor thanks Sebastian for what he did and Sebastian pretends he has no idea what he’s talking about
    • Back in London, it is raining.
      • He is met by his friends, but declines their invitation to dinner at a classy restaurant, preferring to be alone
    • Back at his flat, he gazes out of the window at the view of the brick wall, thinking back over his week
      • He misses the smallholding, the countryside and his friends in the village
        • He focuses on his reflection in the glass and the rain running down the window makes it look like he is crying
          • Maybe he is…

Since this plot was written before I started writing the first draft, it’s somewhat out-of-date. Things have happened during Sebastian’s stay in the village that were not in that original plot and I now have more information to work with to shape the final chapters.

So, instead of breaking this plot down into chapters as I have done up to now, I’m going to break it down into scenes, as follows:

  • Scene 1: Sebastian and Emma at the party on the green
  • Scene 2: Sebastian and Emma look in at Mac and Mrs Standfield in the pub
  • Scene 3: Sebastian and Emma going for a walk / chat / kiss
  • Scene 4: Saturday morning, preparing to leave and travel to the station
  • Scene 5: The journey back to London
  • Scene 6: Sebastian’s friends meet him at Clapham Junction
  • Scene 7: Final scene of Sebastian back in his flat

Plot Expansion

Having broken the story down into its closing scenes, my next task, before I try to write any of it, is to re-do the plot on a scene-by-scene basis. This helps me to get the ending clear in my head and to revise my plot in light of the first draft so far.

Here are the expanded plot outlines for these scenes.

Scene 1

  • Sebastian and Emma head back to the green
    • Emma wants her fortune read by the manly Madame Petrovia
      • The full ‘fortune’ is not detailed, but has to do with journeys
    • The band start to play and Emma drags Sebastian to get food
      • Virginia arrives as they do so, looking stunning (thanks to Sebastian’s advice)

Scene 2

  • While eating by the fire, Neil creeps up on them
    • He points out how amazing Virginia is looking
    • Spurred on by this they decide to see how Mac and Mrs Standfield are getting on a the pub
  • They creep up to the pub to peer through the window
    • The pub is surprisingly busy and the looks much better than earlier that week
    • Mac and Mrs Standbridge are holding hands across the table, causing Emma to cry
  • Donald comes out and gives them a pint each, on the house

Scene 3

  • They go for a walk, heading along the road towards the common
    • Emma talks about her desire to get out of the village and her hope that Mac might offer the support she’s provided since her father died
    • Sebastian invites her to the city, but can’t think of many good points
      • He reveals that he doesn’t want to leave the village
      • Most of all, he doesn’t want to leave her
    • They kiss briefly, then Emma leads him back to the evening’s celebration

Scene 4

  • Wake with a slightly throbbing head
    • Fry-up for breakfast, then collect eggs
    • Disappointed not to take them to the shop as Mac and Mrs Standfield come to see him off (without Emma)
      • He asks why Emma didn’t come and Mrs S says he’ll know why…
      • They thank him for getting them together at the pub
  • At 10.15, Neil and Sebastian head to Barnstaple station
    • (Train times 10.43 depart, 16.07 arrive Clapham Junction)

Scene 5

  • Sebastian’s phone keeps going off and in the end he stuffs it into his luggage
    • There he finds a letter from Emma, saying:
      • She didn’t want to say ‘good bye’
      • Hopes she will be able to escape the village and come to London
      • Thanks him for a great week – spicing up her boring country life.
        • Hopes they steal a kiss at the fayre!
  • He looks out of the window as the fields pass in a green blur, Exeter looms ahead

Scene 6

  • His friends are waiting for him at Clapham Junction
    • They are amazed that he survived the week (lost bets etc.)
    • Talk about him ‘going dark’ – make a crack about ‘dark ages’ in the country
    • Comments about how different he looks
    • Invite him to the pub that evening
  • He doesn’t have much to say – excuses himself to go home as it starts to rain

Scene 7

  • Back at home, dumps his suitcase and can’t be bothered to unpack it
    • Notices the view and walks to the window
    • Remembers the view across the fields from the farmhouse
    • Focuses on his reflection – scruffy hair, stubble
    • Raindrops running down the window look like tears

Now I have everything I need to write the last few chapters of the first draft without rushing it! For me, what works best here is to write non-sequentially, by which I mean, I dive in and out of each section, writing a bit here, writing a bit there, topping up the word count of each scene like a cluster of glasses until they are all full.

And then… I’ll have finished the first draft. Hopefully!