Let’s face it, you’re not going to get your detective to give the answers in front of a bunch of toffs and servants in the drawing room, are you? Unless you’re writing some sort of parody of golden age detective fiction, that is. But you could just as well fall into other, equally unrealistic traps. How many times have you watched, or read the words of a villain explaining exactly how he did it while he taunts the hero at gunpoint? Come on! In real life, he’d just shoot and run, and hope the ballistic experts were going to have an off-day…
Endings will always be tricky in the crime genre, because there will be lots of knots to unravel, lots of facts to confirm or deductions to explain. You probably know the old writing advice ‘show not tell.’ But inevitably your ending will involve a lot of telling the reader how it all happened.
Here are some points to bear in mind:
Practice makes… well, you know. Making dialogue sound natural is one of the skills you have to develop, and especially when characters may be explaining or summing up to one another. Best never to start these bits with the phrase, ‘What I don’t understand is this…’
Your readers need the whole answer, but your characters may not. You may be able to spread out your explanations, spread them around, so to speak. Don’t make the Inspector stand and spell out everything in one go to the sergeant. Answers can come to the reader from a variety of mouths.
Don’t ignore other aspects of ending a book. Novels are based around character, so we expect character development as the story progresses. How did the crime and investigation affect your characters? What have they learnt or what has changed them? It’s not all about the puzzle solving element, after all.
One day, in the possibly distant future, you’ll have completed a book, and you’ll have edited and re-edited, and generally got sick of the whole damn thing. You’ll be wishing you’d taken up painting instead…
That will be the time to start again on the next one. If you seriously want to be a professional crime writer, then you’re likely to need to create a whole series. Check out your local bookshop or library if you’re lucky enough to have one. Some authors have a whole shelf or more just to themselves.
Despite the best efforts of all law abiding citizens and law enforcement agencies, crime never sleeps. Nor does the crime writer…