Determining the End of a Novel

We’ve reached that time of year when we. . .well, when we mess with time. Springing forward to Daylight Savings Time, has cost us an hour. What could have happened between two a.m., standard time, and what should have been three a.m., standard time, will never happen. That hour disappeared as soon as we moved forward.

Which leads me to thoughts on one way a novel often unfolds. Incidents proceed along a timeline until they reach an event beyond which only one outcome is possible. A dramatic event eliminates all possibilities but one. This usually happens about two-thirds of the way through the novel, and it provides a fulcrum that tips the book toward its end. Think of the car accident that kills Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby. That accident determines the death of Jay Gatsby at the end of the novel. Because of Myrtle’s death, George Wilson begins his walk toward retribution, ending, finally, at Gatsby’s mansion, where he finds Gatsby floating in the swimming pool. We all know what happens then. George Wilson murders Gatsby before turning the gun on himself. From the point of the car accident, nothing but Gatsby’s death is possible. It’s simply too late for anything else to happen.

I offer this illustration in case it’s useful to your thinking about one way to manage time in a novel. What’s the single event upon which the end of your novel will depend? What dramatic moment will determine how your novel will have to end? Of course, this isn’t the only way to think about structure in a novel, but it’s a good way if you’re working in an early draft and wondering about the directions in which the book might go.




  1. Chelsie Bryant on March 25, 2023 at 11:15 am

    This post put into words directly what I’ve been trying to figure out lately, Lee. Thanks so much!

    • Lee Martin on March 28, 2023 at 10:48 am

      Thanks for reading my blog, Chelsea. Keep doing the good work!

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